Hang of the « Bergé – Saint-Laurent » Goya at the Louvre

Portrait of Don Luis Maria de Cistué
by Goya at the Louvre (on the right, the Portrait of
I. M. Fernandez de Velasco
by Murillo)

31/3/09 – Hang – Paris, Musée du Louvre – The Goya from the Bergé Saint-Laurent collection, the Portrait of Don Luis María de Cistué (see news item of 1/10/08) was featured in headlines and gave rise to widely varying comments ; some rumors even suggested that it was a secondary work, in bad condition and accepted warily by the Musée du Louvre. During the exhibition at the Grand Palais before the auction, the crowds made it hard to judge the painting calmly. It has just been hung in the Spanish rooms (ill.) after being examined at the C2RMF and is unquestionably very beautiful, better yet than the photographs had led to imagine. The halo of light in the background, a subtle green, enhances the blonde hair and the eyes of the model, emphasizing the Velázquez-like palette. Comparable in quality to the children’s portraits by Goya found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the National Gallery in Washington, it is a significant addition to the ensemble of portraits by the Spanish artist already held at the Louvre [1].

The almost waxy aspect of the painting under a certain light is due to a relining of the canvas carried out around 1928, when it was at Duveen’s, the New York art dealer, at a time when this was done almost systematically. The operation slightly flattened the matter. One of the first synthetic varnishes to appear then, recently elaborated, was applied and also accounts for this impression [2]. The pictorial layer is well preserved, with no visible repainting [3]. As the canvas is in fine condition and does not need an urgent restoration, it has been decided to leave it as is for the moment. Eventually, the removal of the lining and varnishes will however allow the work to stand out better.

Although the accompanying label indicates it was donated by Pierre Bergé, it would have been only fair to recall that Yves Saint-Laurent wished for the painting to go to the Louvre. He had expressed this donation verbally, a desire which was respected by his friend. Despite Bergé’s other donation, the Burne-Jones tapestry (see news item of 19/2/09) and the one-third discount he granted to Beaubourg for the Giorgio de Chirico (see news item of 23/2/09), we regret that he was not more generous to French museums. Some of the works, with no equivalent on the art market, could have gone to filling the gaps in Parisian collections, such as the large James Ensor, a Mondrian, or a Balla. Not to mention the Géricault which we discussed at length, worthy of the Louvre and which certainly would also have pleased the Musée de Lyon.

Version française

Michel de Piles et Didier Rykner, mardi 31 mars 2009


[1] One of the most beautiful portraits by Goya at the Louvre is presented on the second floor, in the Beistegui donation room. The other Goyas, visible only intermittently as they are so often on loan, have recently been moved from the landing on the Flore staircase to the great gallery, thus placing the Zurbarán and Herrera the Elder paintings at such a high level that they are hard to enjoy. The landing is now taken up by a selection of British canvases, as the hang in the Salle des Sept cheminées (see news item of 8/7/07) lasted only a year and a half. There is an urgent need to settle these “nomadic” English works in a permanent exhibition space as the financing for these rooms was already ensured by Michel David-Weil some years ago.

[2] This varnish contains some wax perhaps. At that time, the painting still had its original neo-Greek frame with palm leaves (as seen in the old photograph from 1928 from the Duveen holdings at the INHA). The American art dealer replaced it with the current frame “in the Spanish way” in black and gold, typical of the 17th century and which suits it rather well, despite the anachronism.

[3] There are only a very few repainted spots, as in any old painting, notably on the child’s foot.

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