Dead former wife returns to haunt 18th century family portrait

Dead former wife returns to haunt 18th century family portrait

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After Scottish tobacco lord John Glassford’s wife died in 1766, he had her image painted over with that of his new wife when he remarried in 1768.  Today, she unexpectedly reappeared.



Scotsman photographer John Devlin thought his eyes were deceiving him when he took a picture of two models in front of the Glassford family portrait at Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum in Glasgow.  The flash of his camera had caught the ghostly image of Anne Nisbet, who likely died during childbirth in 1766, peering over the shoulder of her replacement, Margaret Mackenzie.

Museum curator Anthony Lewis who explained: “At some point before 1766 Glassford must have commissioned a family portrait which included Anne Nisbet, but when she died and he remarried again instead of commissioning a new portrait he asked for a portrait of Lady Margaret to be painted to replace the one that was there showing Anne Nisbet.  The ‘ghost’ image was first picked up at Glasgow Museums by painting conservator, Polly Smith, whose meticulous recording and cleaning revealed the history of the painting.”

John Glassford (1715 – 1783) was considered by his contemporaries to be the greatest Tobacco Lord of his era.  He owned tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland and was the most extensive ship owner of his generation in Scotland.

Glassford was born in Paisley, Glasgow, the son of a merchant.  He first married a merchant’s daughter, then a baronet’s (Anne Nesbit), then an earl’s (Margaret Mackenzie).  His immense wealth laid the foundations of Glasgow’s commercial greatness through the tobacco trade.

John Devlin's background image of the Glassman family portrait, featuring the unexpected return of Anne Nesbit
John Devlin’s background image of the Glassman family portrait, featuring the unexpected return of Anne Nesbit
How the Glassford family portrait ususally appears to the naked eye
How the Glassford family portrait ususally appears to the naked eye

Source: the Scotsman

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