Two halves of painting reunited after 300 years

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The Independent Online

It was a visceral act of spite that only an enraged artistic genius could deliver - wanting no memory of his estranged wife in an unfinished double portrait, he cut the painting in two and disposed of her image. Now, after 300 years of separation, the two halves of the painting will be reunited tomorrow in a London gallery after a chance discovery by an art dealer.

Art experts had always been flummoxed by Francis Hayman's badly composed 1735 self-portrait, in which parts of his legs were missing. Hayman was one of the most prominent painters in early Georgian England, a founder-member of the Royal Academy, he was also the man who taught and inspired Thomas Gainsborough.

In August, the Tate Gallery paid £1m for his portrait of Samuel Richardson.

Yesterday, Philip Mould, an art dealer from Exeter, said he had found the answer - the self-portrait was the left-hand half, and he had discovered the right-hand section, complete with legs and wife.

Mr Mould believes Hayman had almost completed the picture when the marriage collapsed and wanting no memory of his wife he cut the canvas in two.

He bought the "lost" half at an auction in rural New Hampshire recently, where the portrait was advertised as "Circle of Hogarth".

After shipping it back to Britain, he had later over-painting removed and the knee of a man wearing brown trousers suddenly appeared in the bottom left-hand side. Mr Mould suspected that he had bought only one half of a portrait. Recognising the style of Hayman, he started to examine surviving pictures by the artist and soon matched it up with the self-portrait, which has been hanging in the Royal Albert Memorial Art Gallery in Exeter since 1963.

Mr Mould, who reveals the two halves at his gallery in Mayfair today, said: "What chance of finding two halves of a painting torn apart 300 years ago. It's pretty fantastic."

Little, however, is known about the painter's first wife, not even her name, other than that she existed and the marriage ended around 1735. There is no known painting of his second wife.