With her straight dark hair and beguiling smile, the so-called “Isleworth Mona Lisa” bears an uncanny resemblance to her namesake in the Louvre.To some experts, these similarities suggest the painting is a mere copy, though a handful of art historians believe it to be an earlier, unfinished version by Leonardo da Vinci himself.This debate has raged for decades. But now the portrait stands at the center of a new dispute: an impending legal battle over its ownership. And if 2017’s record-breaking sale of another disputed Leonardo — the “Salvator Mundi,” whose authentication is still hotly debated — is anything to go by, there could be millions of dollars at stake.Known to some as the “Earlier Mona Lisa,” the painting has spent much of the past five decades hidden in a Swiss bank vault. Acquired by a secretive consortium in 2008, the painting has since been shown in a number of galleries, most notably in Singapore in 2014 and Shanghai two years later.
The unidentified family’s claim is rooted in the painting’s colorful recent history. While there are large gaps in its early provenance, art historians trace the work’s story back to the early 20th century, when it was discovered by artist and collector Hugh Blaker in an English country house.
Blaker moved the painting to his studio in Isleworth, a west London suburb after which it is now unofficially named. Convinced that it was an earlier portrait of a younger Lisa del Giocondo, the subject of the Louvre’s “Mona Lisa,” Blaker’s stepfather John Eyre published research declaring it to be the work of Leonardo, who was known to produce multiple versions of the same painting.
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