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Rare painting saved for the country by south Warwickshire art museum

A RARE 17th century English painting portraying a black woman and a white woman on equal terms has been saved for the nation by Compton Verney art gallery.

Known as Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies, the painting is by an anonymous artist and is dated to around 1650. It was at risk of leaving the UK after being sold at auction in 2021, but after a grant of £154,600 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £50,000 from the V&A Purchase Grants, the work has been bought by Compton Verney. The shortfall of £304,534 was covered by Compton Verney.

Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies has been bought by Compton Verney.
Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies has been bought by Compton Verney.

The Two Ladies painting shows the two women side by side, presented as companions and equals, wearing similar dress, hair and jewellery.

Another aspect of the painting is the depiction of beauty patches on both the women. Although fashionable at the time, the painting appears to condemn wearing these “spots” as the inscription above the two women declares beauty patches to be a sin of pride.

The painting will now undergo conservation before being unveiled in a display at Compton Verney next year.

After its sale by auction, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest agreed the work should remain in the UK because of its “outstanding significance” to the study of race and gender in 17th century Britain.

Geraldine Collinge, chief executive at Compton Verney, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to add this hugely important painting to the Compton Verney collection.

“We are also pleased to be able to work with our colleagues at Yale; their world-class conservation facilities and expertise will restore the work to the highest standard for UK display, along with providing further insight and greater understanding of the painting and its context.”

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