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Museum of Fine Arts Houston discovers it owns a Diego Velázquez painting

November 8, 2018 | In the Press

From The Houston Chronicle (https://m.chron.com/life/article/MFAH-VELAZQUEZ-13374385.php)

Kitchen Maid” could bring Houston a bit of “Mona Lisa”-like excitement.

For years, no one could say with certainty who created the moody, early 17th century painting of a mixed-race servant with her eyes cast downward pensively, perhaps worried about breaking a cup. Because of the uncertainty about the authorship, the label read “In the Style of Diego Velázquez.” And the piece — which had belonged to Carroll and Harris Masterson III — hung unceremoniously behind a door at Rienzi, the River Oaks estate they gave to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Soni Bomford, the museum’s chief paintings conservator, arrived about six years ago. A Velázquez expert, she suspected the painting might actually be the work of the venerable Spanish Old Master himself. The quality of the subject’s face seemed right. And there are similarities between “Kitchen Maid” and Velázquez’s larger “Kitchen Scene,” owned by the Art Institute of Chicago and his “Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus,” which belongs to the National Gallery of Dublin.

But museums don’t take the identification of paintings lightly; it has a huge impact on their value and the accuracy of art history. As The Art Newspaper first reported Wednesday, Bomford dove into layers of wax, resin and other materials with all the tools of her trade, eventually convinced she was right. Other experts agreed.

Visitors to the San Antonio Museum of Art saw the re-attributed painting earlier this year, when it was on loan from the MFAH for the landmark show “Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Painting from the Museums of Madrid.”

“Kitchen Maid” finally gets a proper homecoming Friday, when it goes on display in the European galleries of the MFAH’s Beck Building. The label now reads “Attributed to Velázquez,” a distinction that identifies the Houston museum as a proud owner of its first work by the Spanish master.

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