Artwork a lucky find
A STROKE of luck has brought a rare 300-year-old artwork into Auckland Art Gallery’s collection.
The piece was due to be sold at auction, purely for the value of its frame.
But senior curator Mary Kisler stumbled upon the print by chance and found it dates back to the 17th century.
The Ponsonby resident was flicking through the furniture section of an auction catalogue when she spotted a listing for a huge black and gold picture frame.
‘‘It’s strange because I never look in the furniture section and it was only a thumbnail but I thought, that’s a very good image,’’ Kisler says.
‘‘They thought that the print was so damaged that someone would only buy the picture frame and turn it into a mirror. I took one look at it and thought, we have to have this.’’
The work, The Mocking of Christ – after Sir Anthony van Dyck by Francois Langot, is one of just eight known to exist in the world.
The giant prints were often used as altarpieces for convents that couldn’t afford paintings, Kisler says.
Langot’s print was sold to a convent in Ecuador. It has survived an earthquake, flood and volcanic eruption since it first journeyed from France to Ecuador before ending up in the Parnell home of the late art collector Jeffrey Reid.
‘‘The flood is clear from the water damage but when we got a sample underneath the microscope they found volcanic ash as well,’’ Kisler says.
Reid, a member of the Auckland Decorative and Fine Arts Society, brought the work back from Ecuador to Auckland after the earthquake-damaged convent decided to sell it.
It took pride of place above a mantelpiece until his death and was left to a friend in his will.
which measures 2900mm high and 2250mm wide, was too large to fit in the friend’s Ponsonby apartment and so it was put up for auction – and bought by Auckland Art Gallery for just over $7000.
The Auckland Decorative and Fine Arts Society is sponsoring the work’s restoration to honour Reid’s memory.
‘‘What I love about this story is its whole life has been about serendipitous things happening,’’ Kisler says.
Auckland Art Gallery conservators Ute Larsen and Camilla Baskcomb have worked for almost four years to research and restore the piece so it can be publicly displayed in the gallery.
It meant hours of painstaking work to retrace damaged sections over a lightbox.
This is without doubt her best find at an auction so far, Kisler says.
‘‘We’ve bought some wonderful things but this has been the most complicated and I absolutely adore it’’ she says.
‘‘It’s been the most exciting as well because we’ve discovered the most so I think that really does make it special.’’
But there is still one mystery yet to be solved.
The original painting has the image of Jesus with his face being pulled sideways, whereas Langot’s print has a different stance.
‘‘It’s been this huge jigsaw puzzle and we still have to solve the puzzle – where did the head come from?’’
The work is on display in the gallery for six months and will then be put back into storage to protect it from the light.
An interactive video of the restoration work can be viewed at the gallery.
Treasure hunt: Auckland Art Gallery senior curator Mary Kisler discovered a rare 300-year-old print that was going to be sold for its frame.
Hidden treasure: Francois Langot, The Mocking of Christ, c 1699, engraving, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 2010 – after restoration.
Before: Francois Langot, The Mocking of Christ, (detail) c 1699, engraving, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 2010 – before restoration.