Two for the price of one: X-ray revealed the lost treasure of Frederick Bazil
While visitors to the National Gallery of Art in Washington are enjoying a new exhibition dedicated to the splendid landscapes and chamber portraits of the Impressionists, the gallery restorer Ann Hoenigswald explores the canvases in search of tracks that can indicate the presence of hidden compositions under existing works.
Like a detective, the main restorer of the National Gallery is looking for the slightest signs, to send later work in the laboratory, where modern tools will help to uncover all the secrets of paintings and artists who wrote them.
Senior curator of painting Anne Henigswald talks before the X-ray photographs of the works of Frederick Bazil in the National Gallery of Arts. Honigswald is investigating some of Basil’s paintings. Photo: Mаtt MсClаin | The Washington Post
The biggest discovery of Honigingsvild is the discovery made thanks to the exhibition «Frederic Bazil and the birth of impressionism». Last year, Honigingsvild in Paris participated in the organization of a joint exhibition of three museums: the National Gallery of Art, the Musee Fabre in Montpellier Museum and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, where the important late work of Basil was opened (Frederic Bazille) «Ruth and Boaz» («Ruth and Boaz»). Now, when the work was presented at the exhibition and studied with the help of X-rays, it was discovered that it covered itself with an earlier picture - «A Young Woman at the Piano», considered lost. Given that Basil died at the age of 28, leaving only about 60 paintings, each newly discovered work is considered a real treasure, even if we can not see it.
Honigswijld will continue the research in July, when the exhibition closes and she can take a part of the pictures to her laboratory.
«Each image takes on a new meaning when you see more of the artist’s work,» says the restorer. «Separately, each of the works is interesting, but.. considering that hidden works are revealed quite often, it sets a certain pattern and determines how the artist worked.»
Like many 19th and 20th-century masters, such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Edouard Manet, Basil emerged from the upper layers of the middle class. His family lived in Paris, where he studied art and medicine. In painting classes, he made friends with Renoir, Monet and Alfred Sisley (Alfred Sisley), the artists whose works are included in the exhibition. Basil shared studio space with several of them, and his letters say that they helped each other to acquire paints and canvases. Basil died at the age of 28 during the Franco-Prussian War, leaving about 60 works. 46 of his paintings are on display at the National Gallery and this is the most complete retrospective of the artist’s works and his first large-scale exhibition in the United States for a quarter of a century.
In total curators from different museums found 11 earlier works of the artist, hidden under his surviving works. Basil often used his own canvases for new works to save money. As the X-ray images show, he did not paint over and do not scrape off the previous layers of paint.
«He did not forget what was under them,» says Anne Honigswald. «It’s extremely difficult to work on an existing image. But apparently he decided not to remove them in order to draw new inspiration from them. «
As an example, Honigswald leads the painting «Woman with Peonies». On it you can see where the elements of Basil’s previous work have become the shadows of colors in the new picture.
Now the main restorer and the experts of her team will explore the available paintings of the artist with infrared and X-rays to get as much as possible clear pictures of hidden works.
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