Date completed : 25 July 2023 Duration : 3 Weeks
April Johnson

During World War I, the neutral Netherlands was situated squarely between two warring great powers, Britain and Germany, and on the edge of the war itself.  Its geographical significance and international connections made the Netherlands a hotbed of espionage.  The country’s neutrality allowed citizens of warring countries to travel freely to or from the Netherlands and many spy agencies had operatives in the country.  British Intelligence had a station in Rotterdam, providing the Allies with intelligence concerning German troops behind the Western Front, as did the German secret services who used it as a base for espionage in Britain. 

According to family history, Norna Labouchere (1871-1940), a child of Dutch parents but living in London at the outbreak of war, visited The Hague during WW1 and painted this copy of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis.  While painting she would receive information from spies which she would then pass on to other spies as she continued to paint.

Norna Labouchere is recorded in the artist’s database of the Netherland’s Institute of Art History, was a member of the Women’s International Art Club, and exhibited in Amsterdam and London.  She married an English Army officer in 1919 and moved to Egypt where she died in Cairo in 1940.  This picture has been passed down the family and held in great affection.

Following a recent visit by the family to see the original by Vermeer in the Mauritshuis, the client realised her painting was seriously in need of conservation. Layers of grey surface dirt and discoloured yellow varnish were carefully removed to reveal Labouchere’s palette was far closer to Vermeer’s original once again. Preventative conservation measures were implemented to ensure the painting can continue to be cherished by the family for years to come.

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