The newly cleaned “Portrait of a Man,” by Velázquez, in the Met’s conservation department (Photo: Ángel Franco/The New York Times)

For years the Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed the painting of a mustached man in his mid-30s on the same wall as famous portraits of Juan de Pareja and Maria Teresa, infanta of Spain by the 17th-century Spanish master Velázquez.

But was the canvas of the figure with the mustache, “Portrait of a Man,” also painted by Velázquez, as thought when it was bequeathed to the museum in 1949? Or was it merely from “the workshop of” Velázquez, as experts concluded a few decades later? After revisiting a painting that had raised nagging questions, a Met curator and a conservator finally have the answer.

“It’s bugged me for 25 years,” said Keith Christiansen, the Met’s newly appointed chairman of European paintings. “The quality has always been there. And I had a hard time believing that a work of quality was the product of a generic workshop…”

The painting was so dull before it was cleaned that Mr. Brown said he didn’t think it was a Velázquez. But after the varnish and the layers of paint — additions made centuries later to make the canvas look more old-masterish and entice buyers — were removed, “all the liveliness of the artist’s brushstrokes and all the subtleties that for decades had been covered over were revealed.”

The discovery, he added, is particularly significant because “Velázquez was a painter who measured out his genius in thimblefuls.” His output was so small that, depending on who’s counting, Mr. Brown estimates, there are only 110 to 120 known canvases by the artist.


Carol Vogel
New York Times