Art­work a lucky find

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By JESS LEE

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.

The

huge

work,

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.

Photo: JESS LEE

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.

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