‘Ghost wife’ emerges from 18th century painting

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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HER husband had her painted over with his new wife in an 18th century family portrait but today Ann Nisbet’s face again beamed from the painting, if only for a few miliseconds, thanks to the illumanating flash of a camera lens.

A ghostly face can be seen over the shoulder of the model above in this picture which was taken by Scotsman photographer John Devlin at Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum at the opening of a new exhibition entitled How Glasgow Flourished, 1714-1837 which explores how the city rose to become a global economic powerhouse.

The picture created a stir in the Scotsman office when it was confirmed that John’s eyes were in fact not playing tricks on him.

The mystery however was solved by curator Anthony Lewis who explained that, Anne Nisbet of Dean (whose family built Edinburgh’s Dean Village), more than likely died during childbirth in 1766 and in 1768 her husband married again for the third and last time to his new wife Lady Margaret Mackenzie of Cromarty.

He explained: “At some point before 1766 Glassford must have commissioned a family portrait which included Anne Nisbet, but when she died and he remarried again instead of commissioning a new portrait he asked for a portrait of “Lady Margaret to be painted to replace the one that was there showing Anne Nisbet.

Research for the object clearly showed that the Glassford children took to Lady Margaret and that the Glassford family was a happy one.

“The ‘ghost’ image was first picked up at Glasgow Museums by painting conservator, Polly Smith, whose meticulous recording and cleaning revealed the history of the painting.”