Miss­ing trea­sure: Delacroix can­vas re­dis­cov­ered, now on sale

The Prince George Citizen - - A&E - Cather­ine GASCHKA

PARIS — It’s been hang­ing on peo­ple’s walls for al­most 170 years without draw­ing much at­ten­tion, but a paint­ing show­ing a group of women has turned out to be more than meets the eye.

The most re­cent owner of the pic­ture, a Parisian woman, has found out that what she has is a long­for­got­ten paint­ing by 19th cen­tury French Ro­man­tic artist Eu­gene Delacroix.

“A woman walked into the gallery with a paint­ing un­der her arm, telling me she’d just vis­ited the Delacroix ex­hibit at the Lou­vre Mu­seum... and that she thought her paint­ing shared some resemblanc­e” with the artist’s Women of Algiers in their Apart­ment, said Philippe Mendes, di­rec­tor of the Mendes Gallery in Paris.

“I took a look at the paint­ing, which was dirty and with a very thick yel­low var­nish, but I felt it had Delacroix’s very par­tic­u­lar style. So I said, let’s clean the paint­ing and let’s see what comes out of it,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view.

“Af­ter we cleaned it, the ra­di­ant and ex­traor­di­nary colours typ­i­cal of Delacroix re­ally stood out and we knew we had to start do­ing some real re­search.”

The paint­ing, now hang­ing in Mendes’ gallery as he ne­go­ti­ates with a U.S. mu­seum seek­ing to buy it, shows a pale woman seated and an African slave stand­ing next to her, look­ing at the other woman over her shoul­der. The same scene is cap­tured in Women of Algiers in their Apart­ment, which was painted af­ter in 1833-34 af­ter Delacroix vis­ited North Africa. That paint­ing now hangs in the Lou­vre.

Art his­to­rian and Delacroix ex­pert Virginie CauchiFati­ga in­ves­ti­gated the cu­ri­ous can­vas at Mendes’ re­quest. She an­a­lyzed the tech­nique and use of colours, com­pared it with other Delacroix paint­ings, then used in­frared and X-ray im­ages to look deeper.

Af­ter more than a year of ex­am­i­na­tion, her ver­dict: She says with “ab­so­lute cer­tainty” that the paint­ing is a Delacroix work, a study for Women of Algiers. The study was sold at auc­tion in 1850 and hadn’t been shown in pub­lic since.

She called it a discovery “of prime im­por­tance, be­cause it re­ally is a gate­way into the artist’s mind right at the mo­ment” he was work­ing on Women of Algiers.

“The colours are dis­tinc­tive of Delacroix’s work, but it’s also about how they are as­so­ci­ated,” she said. “He doesn’t use colour in the same way as other big clas­si­cal pain­ters – colour is not an ac­ces­sory for him. He shapes his paint­ing around colours.”

The paint­ing bears no Delacroix sig­na­ture, since it is only a study, she said – but does bear a stamp at the back of the can­vas reading “118.”

That matches the num­ber listed for the study in the cat­a­logue of paint­ings sold at auc­tion in 1850 by the Count de Mor­nay, a diplo­mat who sponsored Delacroix’s trip to North Africa, Mendes said. Lot 118 was bought for a pri­vate col­lec­tion, and its sub­se­quent move­ments aren’t known.

The Parisian woman bought the paint­ing about 10 years ago with her fa­ther, but does not want to be pub­licly iden­ti­fied, Mendes said.

He also showed the can­vas to ex­perts at French mu­se­ums that hold Delacroix paint­ings and re­ceived an ex­port cer­tifi­cate from the Cul­ture Min­istry iden­ti­fy­ing it as a Delacroix work.

The Na­tional Eu­gene Delacroix Mu­seum in Paris and its par­ent, the Lou­vre, would not com­ment on the paint­ing be­cause it is on the open mar­ket, but did not ques­tion its au­then­tic­ity. The Metropolit­an Mu­seum in New York, which hosted a Delacroix ex­hibit in 2018, would not com­ment on a work out­side its col­lec­tion.

No one would com­ment on the pos­si­ble value of the paint­ing.

Paul Exbrayat of the Britain-based Art Loss Reg­is­ter said the paint­ing had not been listed on in­ter­na­tional data­bases as miss­ing or stolen, and de­scribed it as just long-dor­mant. “It has wo­ken up from a long slum­ber, like Sleep­ing Beauty,” he said.

AP PHOTO BY FRAN­COIS MORI

This photo shows a de­tail of Eu­gene Delacroix’s oil paint­ing Women of Algiers in their Apart­ment at the Ga­lerie Mendes in Paris on Fri­day.

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