16th Century painting back on display in Essex after two year restoration project

 The Vegetable Seller painting, Audley End House
The unsigned Dutch work called "The Vegetable Seller" has been dated back to the 16th Century Credit: Audley End House/English Heritage

A 450 year old painting that's been in storage for sixty years will finally go on display at Audley End House in Essex after a two year restoration project. 

The unsigned Dutch work called The Vegetable Seller has been dated back to the 16th Century. 

Thanks to new conservation work, technical analysis and research by English Heritage, experts have been able to date the painting from just before the Dutch Golden Age, much earlier than previously thought.

It's believed there are also possible associations with 16th-century Antwerp painter, Joachim Beuckelaer from around 1535.

The painting before the restoration work. Credit: Audley End House/English Heritage

The painting had previously been something of a mystery to curators at Audley End, with the full history of the canvas lost over time.

It depicts a lone female figure looking out at the viewer surrounded by an array of produce.

The Vegetable Seller was acquired for Audley End during the second half of the eighteenth century by Sir John Griffin Griffin, who owned the house at the time.

The painting was unsigned and in poor condition, making it impossible to date the work conclusively.

The painting after restoration work. Credit: Audley End House/English Heritage

As well as the removal of the top addition to the painting, extensive over-paint, added in past restoration attempts, was carefully removed by conservators to expose the artist's original intentions underneath.

As more of this was revealed the differences to the existing painting could be seen, showing its subject matter in finer detail.

This included the subtleties in the figure's expression, a previously upturned smile which had been added by a previous restorer, disappeared to reveal a more enigmatic expression.

The restoration also revealed a rich array of colours in the fresh produce on display.

Many of the fruit and vegetables would now be considered heritage varieties, and some will have been lost entirely from cultivation. 

The absence of tomatoes and potatoes are a sign that the painting dates from a time before their introduction to Europe.

Experts say the restoration revealed a more enigmatic smile on the subject underneath an added up-turned smile at a later date. Credit: Audley End House/English Heritage

Visitors to Audley End can now see the painting, looking more like it appeared in the late sixteenth century and hanging once again on the walls of the grand historic house where it came to be in the 18th century.