The LACMA Purchases a Mysterious Painting

Europe, First Half of the XVIIIth Century
The Five Senses (?)
Oil on Canvas - 205 x 145 cm
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art
Photo : Saint-Honoré Art Consulting

24/5/12 - Acquisition - Los Angeles, County Museum of Art - The LACMA has just acquired, at Etienne Bréton’s (SHAC) in Paris, a superb painting (ill.) which is very mysterious as, for the moment, it remains anonymous. Adding to the intrigue, the school has not been determined and even the subject is not really clear.

Might this be from the early 18th century Spanish school, representing A Fortune Teller as thought tentatively by Etienne Bréton (the painting resided in Spain in the 19th century) ? According to Patrice Marandel, the curator in charge of old master paintings at this California museum, all of the Spanish who have been consulted have responded in the negative. Can this be by the hand of an Italian artist, perhaps Giacomo Ceruti as is also possible ? However, the curator finds this theory just as uncertain and wonders if the search should not include Germany, even Bohemia. Should the subject be considered an Allegory of the Five Senses as he suggests ? Maybe, but then we would hasten to ask the reason for the presence of the hanging rats (dead ?) on the shoulder of the blind figure on the left or crawling in the wooden basket at his feet ? Patrice Marandel proposes the illustration of a proverb. Or yet again, a scene drawn from a novel or a fable.
The curator added this picture to the Facebook page of the Connoisseur, a game played by many art historians of all nationalities attempting to identify the authors of anonymous paintings. Hopefully, one of them will help solve this enigma. We also invite The Art Tribune readers to let us know of any ideas they might have and we will forward them to the LACMA.

We admire an establishment which is knowledgeable enough to purchase such a canvas, based solely on its quality and not on a name. Once upon a time the Louvre, then headed by Michel Laclotte or Pierre Rosenberg, did not hesitate to acquire 17th or 18th century paintings without knowing the artist’s identity. This is now impossible with Henri Loyrette who demands absolute certitude. All the better for the other museums.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 29 mai 2012

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