“Gentleman of Georgetown:” Thomas Peter’s Portrait Assessed

Spectrometry revealed hidden layers in Thomas Peter's portrait.

Spectrometry revealed changes over time in Thomas Peter’s portrait.

When Tudor Place founder Thomas Peter sat for an oil portrait in the 1830s, riding crop in hand, the painter took pains to show him as a gentleman at ease. Recent conservation assessment of this significant Tudor Place painting, assumed to be by Peter’s son-in-law William G. Williams, found that past “improvements” and restorations, careful and well intentioned though they may have been, left their mark — and in some cases obscured the painter’s design. Conservation and removal of these later alterations revealed everything from an obscured equestrian scene to changes in the subject’s very dress. More recently, x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry further defined what elements are present in the painting, and therefore possibly some pigments which may have been used by the artist.  Further information will be gained by special imaging techniques, including X-radiographs, infrared photography, and high-resolution UV photography.  It is perhaps an irony of progress that it takes modern photographic techniques to “restore” the lost elements of Williams’s design, but they also offer hope that enough of the original paint layers remain to make further conservation treatment worthwhile.

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