Lost diaries help solve "young Mona Lisa" mystery
By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - A package of diaries said to have been posted to the United States from Britain in the 1960s could provide a vital clue to the origin of a controversial portrait presented in Geneva last month as Leonardo da Vinci's original "Mona Lisa."
But in a twist typical of the intrigue-prone world of art, the diaries -- notes by early 20th century British connoisseur and collector Hugh Blaker -- disappeared and the Washington address they were sent to seems never to have existed.
"Those papers could well provide the key to pushing back the provenance of this version of the 'Mona Lisa' by at least 150 years," Robert Meyrick, an academic and expert on the largely forgotten Blaker, told Reuters.
And, of course, to helping establish if the so-called "Isleworth" variant of the world's most famous painting in the Paris Louvre could indeed be an earlier -- and priceless -- portrayal by Leonardo of the enigmatic, smiling lady.
Blaker, an unsuccessful painter who as a museum curator and dealer had a reputation for recognizing lost Old Masters, found and bought the "younger Mona Lisa" in 1913 -- in, he later said, a nobleman's country house in Somerset in western England.
Sure it was a real Leonardo, he kept it at his home in the London suburb of Isleworth -- giving it its informal identity tag -- until it passed to his sister Jane on his death in 1936.
But Blaker told no one the name of the country house or of the seller. Meyrick, who was invited to the Geneva presentation to talk about the bachelor connoisseur, is keen to solve that mystery for a biography he plans to write.
"I think he must have put the details in his diaries," he said in an e-mail message this month from Aberystwyth University in Wales where he is Head of the School of Art. Continued...