The long-running mystery surrounding the famous portrait of Dido Belle has been resolved after a BBC investigation attributed the Scone Palace painting to Scots artist David Martin.
In a compelling episode of the popular TV series Fake or Fortune?, aired on BBC One on Sunday September 2nd, art expert Philip Mould looked into the history of a painting which had long been attributed to German artist Johann Zoffany.
Piecing together evidence from paint samples, x-ray imagery and his own studies of other paintings at Scone Palace, Philip revealed that Anstruther- born David Martin was the artist behind the commission.
Martin painted hundreds of portraits in his lifetime, among them Benjamin Franklin (an image which hangs in the White House), David Hume and William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield. It was the Earl of Mansfield who brought up Dido Belle, the mixed-race daughter of an African slave, after her British naval captain father, Sir John Lindsay, brought her to the UK. The Murrays were already guardians to their niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray and brought up Dido as a free, educated girl at their home at Kenwood House, Hampstead.
The portrait was painted at Kenwood in about 1779 and sees St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. It features Lady Elizabeth and Dido Belle sitting on a bench, Dido seeming to coyly point to her face and holding a bowl of fruit.
Philip Mould drew similarities between the Dido painting and one hanging in the private drawing room of Lord and Lady Mansfield at Scone Palace. The portrait of Lady Marjory Murray is strikingly similar, with the same attention to the fabric, flowers in her hair, the colour of her lips and, tellingly, a finger resting on her face – much as Dido is portrayed.
The Palace, which now has 10 paintings by David Martin, today formally attributed the painting to Martin by attaching a new plaque on the portrait.
Scone Palace has now formally attributed the painting to David Martin by attaching a new plaque on the portrait.
Lady Mansfield said:
“This was an extraordinary journey and I’m so grateful to the team at Fake or Fortune for taking the time to look into this. The painting is very precious to us as a family and admired by the many visitors to Scone Palace. I can’t believe the clue to the mystery painter – the portrait of the Lady Marjory Murray - has hung in our drawing room for years, quite literally staring us in the face!”
Scone Palace will hold a special evening with Lady Mansfield on November 1 in which she will talk about the painting and give a tour of previously unseen areas of the Palace, including other David Martin portraits.