AP History Notes

Posts Tagged ‘louvre’

A New Way to Move Paintings Around.

These days pictures travel a lot, to all points of the compass. There’s always the danger of something going wrong: an aircraft crashing, a train being derailed, a transportation truck held up by art thieves. So what’s the solution? Should they stay at home under the watchful eye of the museum authorities.

Not at all. The Louvre have hit on a wonderful way of moving their paintings and sculpture from Paris to their annex in the industrial city of Lens, the so-called Louvre Lens.

Watch this animation on the home page. The art rises up out of the Louvre into the skies over Paris, and then it sets a course for Northern France…..

Lens 1

Finally the canvases and sculptures drop into their allotted spaces. No planes, no trucks, no thieves, just art soaring across the skies.

Lens 2

Mind you I hate the building that they drop into: like a cross between an ice rink and an over-size forecourt of a showroom- OK for modern art, but not for Raphael, Poussin and Co.

As for the point of the Louvre Lens, here’s Didier Rykner’s (Art Tribune) view.


Aesthetic Appraisal and the Restoration Process.

no 1 st anne face before no 2 st anne face after
St Anne, pre-restoration. St Anne, after cleaning.

I’m looking with growing horror at images of pre and post restoration images of the Leonardo Virgin and St Anne in the Louvre. They can be found here, in an article by the head of ArtWatch, Michael Daley. In a balanced and thoughtful post on restoration culture, Michael Daley highlights its real dangers, clearly evident in this latest example. These sections are especially relevant I think..

“All cleaning controversies turn on the extent to which pictures suffer during restoration. Even among those who authorise restorations, some concede that there are losses as well as gains and frankly admit to seeking the best trade-off between improved legibility and pictorial injury. Defensive restorers insist that pictures cannot be harmed by their own “advanced”, “gentle” and “scientifically underpinned” methods. Making a fetish of the “safety” and the “science” of restoration methods attempts to shelve restorers responsibility to identify and account for all material and aesthetic changes. Given that all restorers’ methods cannot be superior, none should be held beyond question. With the physical alteration of art, aesthetic appraisal is essential to scholarship and art’s protection. In appraising restorations, the comparison of like with like is of the essence.”

“In visual arts, appraisals are necessarily made by visual comparisons. Pictures are made by eye, hand and mind, to be viewed by eye and mind. Because each cleaning destroys the earlier state, comparisons can only be made between pre and post-restoration photographs. While straightforward cleaning might always be expected to achieve a greater vivacity of pictorial effect, it should never be made at the expense of the pictorial relationships, patterns, or gradations made in the service of modelling, that can be seen to reside in the uncleaned work. If the relationships can be seen it is because they are there – whatever chemical analyses might suggest to the contrary. The aesthetic production of pictorial values by artists is the proper science of art. Unfortunately, in such terms, the values that were formerly evident in this great picture seem not to have fared well in this last cleaning.”

Putting my two pence in, I don’t see how a restorer can proceed without an aesthetic sense, or some knowledge of the protocols of traditional connoisseurship. As art historians, we’re trained in the comparative method: to look at images side by side with a view to determining differences and similarities; the tonal differences, variations in colour, light and shadow etc. A restorer should be sensitive to the operations of the painter, the passage of their brush, their painterly presence, which they can check by reference to the historical visual record; but MD is right, restorers seem to make a fetish of their scientific methods with disastrous results. Surely there’s a balance to be struck between preserving pictures  that are “sick”, whilist retaining the original intentions of the artists. While some individuals decry traditional connoisseurship and stylistic analysis, it’s just as essential to restoration as the chemicals and test tubes. As for using medical metaphors to describe the restoration process, I’m tempted to say that in the case of the Leonardo, the operation was successful but the patient died. 

Just compare figs 5 and 6, (shown above). Where are the those Leonardo shadows? This is a travesty- it’s not the same picture anymore. This will undoubtedly happen again, which is why ArtWatch exists.


A Restoration Too Far

Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin, Child and St Anne, Louvre, c. 1510.


Well, things have come to a pretty pass when eminent French curators refuse to associate themselves with the procedures of the Louvre. The Guardian reports that Ségolène Bergeon and Jean-Pierre Cuzin no longer agree with the cleaning treatment of one of the Louvre’s treasures- Leonardo’s Virgin and St Anne. Bergeon, an eminent expert on the cleaning of pictures said: "I can confirm that I have resigned from the international consultative committee, but my reasons I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette."

Nobody can get a comment out of Cuzin, one of France’s greatest experts on paintings, but the Guardian says:

“Cuzin, the Louvre’s former head of paintings, declined to comment beyond confirming his resignation. But a senior museum source said the experts believed the restoration had gone too far, and that steps had gone ahead without adequate tests. The restoration has divided the committee between those who believe the painting is now too bright and those who regard the cleaning as moderate. There were also disputes over whether an area dismissed as removable repaint was in fact a glaze applied by Leonardo."

The committee from which Bergeon and Cuzin have resigned include Luke Syson (curator of the current Leonardo exhibition) and Larry Keith, a restorer at the NG. It is emerging that the English, not the French wanted this restoration. "The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but ‘we can move without any danger to the work.” Even the Louvre had doubts about undergoing this restoration since in the words of the Guardian:

“Seventeen years ago, the Louvre abandoned an earlier attempt to clean the painting amid fears over how the solvents were affecting the sfumato, Leonardo’s trademark painterly effect for blurring contours. Since then, the British influence on restoration has helped to sway the Louvre.” And all this time I had doubts about the Louvre and cleaning!

Naturally, and understandably, this has roused the ire of the pressure group ArtWatch. It’s leader Michael Daly said  "Implicitly, this is a vote of no confidence in the National Gallery cleaning policy because the most pro-active members of the [Louvre] committee have been the advisers from the National Gallery."

The final verdict is that Leonardo’s St Anne has been “overcleaned” and there will be another inspection on the 3rd January. As for Syson and co, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. Why on earth were they so overzealous for pressing for this restoration which experts tell me has irrevocably damaged the work?  Hardly an auspicious way to ring in the art history new year. Leonardo done in by committee.


A First for the Louvre and an Omission in the National Gallery.

Georges de La Tour, Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop, 1645, oil on canvas, 137 x 101 cm.


Reading Art History News and the Tribune de l’Art posts about the Louvre’s acquisition of a painter, hitherto unrepresented in that museum, Jean Le Clerc, got me thinking about a glaring 17th century French omission in our own National Gallery. This is a painter who may have influenced Le Clerc, Georges de La Tour. Though the gallery has a good collection of the French school, Poussin, Claude, Mignard, Le Sueur, the Le Nain, Champaigne, Vouet, it doesn’t posses a La Tour, though it had the chance when one was offered to the gallery for a low price under Kenneth Clark’s directorship. However, Clark with typical patrician scorn dismissed La Tour’s wonderful Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop as too vulgar, even when Anthony Blunt and an influential aristocrat tried to sway Clark. It isn’t always the acquisition budget that counts in these matters.

If you’re wondering what museum now has possession of the rejected La Tour- given to it in 1948….Take a wild guess!