The Dutch Master

A National Trust (NSW) artwork restoration led to the remarkable discovery of a 17th century Dutch Master painting at Woodford Academy in the Blue Mountains.

This painting was one of 36 artworks included in the National Trust’s 2021 artwork appeal, which aimed to restore the condition of historic artworks in the collection.

When restorers removed the varnish on Still Life they spotted two hidden signatures hidden on a knife’s blade in the painting. After expert examination, it was confirmed that the painting was a rare 17th century painting by Gerret Willemz. Heda, son of the famous Dutch Master still life painter Willem Claesz. Heda.

The artwork has been dated to 1640, making the artist, Gerret Willemz. Heda, no older than 17 years at the time of its execution.

The artwork’s full provenance is yet to be confirmed, however it’s possible that Still Life, along with Woodford Academy’s substantial collection of 19th century Victorian paintings, was acquired around the 1870s by Alfred Fairfax, who bought Woodford House and refurbished it initially as a gentleman’s country retreat.

The house later became a private school – Woodford Academy – from 1907 to 1936, run by Headmaster John McManamey. McManamey’s daughters remained in the academy after his death, and she later bequeathed Woodford Academy and its collection to the National Trust.

Still Life is on display at the Art Gallery of NSW throughout 2023-24.

Learn more about the story behind the Dutch Master discovery.