Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Mysteries of a Woman

Our Museum is packed with mysterious jewels of history. Mostly, these precious gems were donated from families who have lived in Telluride for generations. Although the family might not know the true origin of an artifact, we can usually trace back at least a hundred years of its history. However, there are instances when an artifact found in collections has no known history or reference of to how it came to Telluride.

During storage organization, I found this beautiful little treasure in a box full of miscellaneous frames. She captivated me, even in the dark corner of the Museum attic. I rushed her out to the light and examined her under spyglass searching for a signature, date, or some indication of who she was. I so desired to throw organizing duties into the wind and bury myself in piles of research. Who was she, who was the artist, was there a Titanic story line hiding beneath the layers of paint? I set her aside on my desk for days until I could steal any spare moment to uncover her mystery.

She greeted me daily for weeks. I sent inquiring details to art history scholars, Rennaissance Art experts and to Denver Art Museum curators. The only telling qualities I could decipher were the shoes at her feet, most likely Dutch, and her full round figure reminiscent of 17th century Baroque styles.[1] While these two styles were noticeable to researching scholars, we all questioned the color palette and the bonnet which seems strangely out of context. Among the responses, the most agreeable is that she is not a true 17th century century Baroque work of art, but most likely a late 18th or early 19th century American artist's study. Most American Colonial artists, having limited access to European art, often used black and white engraved reproductions to study from.[2]

Even though Dutch influence is apparent, the painting's current residence, history of our mining town, and her explicit nature led curators at the Denver Art Museum to speculate her be an example of early 19th century American Erotica. Considering a large amount of  early Telluride's population was male, I like to think it's possible we had a talented practicing artist who made a living by selling color interpretations of Dutch women on display. But most likely, that's my own romantic novel in the making starring an artist who is madly in love with the model.

If the painting were to ever undergo restoration we might be able to uncover her true identity by revealing the original color palette and painting technique. Until then, she remains an admired mystery.

~ Cameo
Collections Assistant
Telluride Historical Museum

**Note to readers: Watch for our upcoming "Adopt an Artifact" program and send our Woman of Mystery to restoration!

[1] Referenced: Campbell, Andrea <>. "Mysterious nude" private email to <>, 27 Sept. 2010.
[2] Placidi, Kathleen <>. "Mysterious painting" private email to <>, 27 Sept. 2010.