Musée de Valence : Four 17th century Paintings Undergoing Restoration


3/4/13 - Restoration - Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’achéologie - Should a painting - or its artist - be famous in order to finance a restoration ? Fortunately the answer is no as this would mean neglecting an obvious stake implied in the process, besides of course preserving the work, that is, a better knowledge of its history.


1. Anonymous XVIIth c.
The Miracle of the Fish
(before restoration)
Oil on Canvas - 257 x 336 cm
Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie

2. Anonymous, XVIIth c.
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
(before restoration)
Oil on Canvas - 257.5 x 338 cm
Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie


Thus, a series of anonymous works residing at the Musée in Valence, currently entrusted to the team led by Vicat-Blanc [1], thanks to funding from the Fondation BNP-Paribas with a contribution of 50,00€ of the needed 200,000, the balance provided by the State, the city and the region. There is no information concerning their provenance nor the artist, in fact more likely the studio, which produced them. Neither the support nor the surface have provided any clues but the style will no doubt help to in some way identify them once they become more visible. In the meantime, specialists tend to favor Southern Italy, the Apulia region, or else Calabria, even Naples.
This is a series of 18th century paintings on the theme of spiritual and earthly nourishment, found in the Gospels, from the miraculous catch of fish (ill. 1) to the water of life Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman (ill. 2), but also the multiplying of the loaves of bread (ill. 3) and the angels serving Christ after fasting in the desert (ill. 4).


3. Anonymous, XVIIth c.
The Multiplication of the Loaves
(before restoration)
Oil on Canvas - 257 x 336 cm
Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie

4. Anonymous, XVIIth c.
Jesus Tempted by the Devil and Served by Angels
(before restoration)
Oil on Canvas - 256 x 336 cm
Valence, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie


The four canvases were apparently brought back from Rome in the 19th century by Monsignor Chatrousse, the bishop of Valence between 1840 and 1857, during his ad limina visit ; he placed them in the chapel of the Petit Séminaire built at his request and inaugurated in 1845. This is recounted by Abbot Nadal in his Histoire des séminaires du diocèse de Valence par un chanoince de la cathédrale (1895) and confirmed by the inventory of 1907 established by the Direction générale des domaines, after the separation of Church and State. The ensemble was acquired by M. Frigière, a furniture dealer and collector from Valence, when the objects from the Petit Séminaire were sold at auction in 1910. The city of Valence then purchased them from his descendants in 1969 for the municipal museum.
However, the history of these paintings before their arrival in France remains mysterious. Their iconography would seem to indicate that they decorated the refectory in a convent and even that there were additional works, since the Wedding at Cana is usually an inevitable subject in this type of cycle which might also include the pilgrims at Emmaus and the meal at Simon’s.


5. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
undergoing restoration
Photo : Colette Vicat-Blanc

6. The Multiplication of the Loaves
undergoing restoration
Photo : Colette Vicat-Blanc


Although the four works all follow a similar composition, presenting the scene in several tiered vignettes - the main one in the foreground, the others in smaller size scattered throughout the landscape - the treatment varies slightly from one to the next. Some show figures with haloes, others without, two of them use smalt blue for the clothing or the sky, two others azurite. The flower beds in each of the canvases bestows a poetic touch to the ensemble as well as acting as a unifying element but their accumulation appears to have fallen out of favor at certain periods as they were painted over in some areas.
The Miracle of the Fish is rather original as the artist does not place the main action of the fishing in the foreground, moving it back, and showing instead a scene which is not quoted in the Gospel of St. Luke but in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus eating with his apostles, after Resurrection.


7. Jesus Served by Angels
undergoing restoration
Photo : Colette Vicat-Blanc

8. Jesus Served by Angels
undergoing restoration
Photo : Colette Vicat-Blanc


The restoration is the result of a collaboration between the C2RMF [2] and the CICRP [3] in Marseille. Above all, the task was ensuring the unity of the ensemble, thus the procedure had to take place at the same time on all four canvases (ill. 5 to 8). The preliminary study revealed many previous restorations, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, resulting in numerous repainted zones, at times overlapping, while a relining with glue had provoked swelling. Initial work on the support stabilized the works, allowing them to become sufficiently flat. The pictorial layer had become more opaque, but also worn out, in points so transparent that there were glimpses of certain pentimenti. The oldest were preserved and the rest removed, then an overall reintegration was carried out. The team used both natural and synthetic products, selecting the best of each depending on the need.

The four paintings will return to the galleries in the Musée de Valence at the end of the year, when it reopens its doors after several years of renovations. They will illustrate the birth of landscape painting as a progressively autonomous genre.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 5 avril 2013


Notes

[1] A procedure started in September 2011 by the group Vicat-Blanc, a studio in Lyon with Colette Vicat-Blanc, supervisor and in charge of treating the pictorial layers with other collaborators : Aurélia Catrin, Florence Delteil, Eléna Duprez, Caroline Snyers, Patricia Vergez and Gérard Blanc in charge of treating the supporting canvas, with other collaborators : Christian Chatelier, Jean-François Hulot and Emmanuel Joyerot. We visited the restoration workshop on 28 March.

[2] Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France.

[3] Centre Interdisciplinaire de Conservation et de Restauration du Patrimoine.



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