This week, we took a close look at a portrait by German painter Max Ernst, depicting a woman. It was made in 1939 and painted on a series of wood panels. But these aren’t just any wood panels: they’re made of a material called “Kubuk”, which is a form of wood that was invented for this purpose. At first glance, it looks like a normal portrait: there’s a smiling woman in a white dress, looking at the viewer. But as soon as you look closer, it becomes obvious that what you’re seeing is not a portrait at all.
The Queen Elizabeth II portrait by artist Anthony van Dyck is an iconic image that many people have seen, but few have seen with their own eyes. That’s because the canvas is housed in a museum. If you want to see it, however, you’ll need to travel to the National Gallery in London, and that’s a bit of a trip if you’re not a frequent visitor.
According to this screamer on the Met’s website, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Announces Transformative New Insights into 18th-Century Painting by Jacques-Louis David after Discovering Underlying Composition.” “Transformative”? I’d be horrified if my art was x-rayed, revealing a picture I didn’t like and jeopardizing my reputation for stark, austere portraiture.
Jacque-Louis David’s austere, clean-lined portraits with little background information have long been admired. The unaltered resemblance of Portrait of Madame Recamier without a particle of jewelry is a well-known example.
Nothing except her reclines on a sofa in peaceful slumber is seen in the photograph. Jacque-Louis at his prime.
tarnishing one’s reputation
The Met, on the other hand, used infrared reflectography and macro-X-ray fluorescence to see underneath a picture of the same image. The one underneath it, on the other hand, is showy and splashy, not at all plain. Worse, the underpainting doesn’t match the figures, Marie-Anne Lavoisier and Antoine Laurent, two renowned French scientists. They discovered the chemical make-up of water and oxygen as a team.
You’d never guess the pair was involved in scientific advancements based on the picture released by the Met. Their look is described by Hyperallergic as “more aristocratic than revolutionary.” I’d go even farther.
They all look ludicrous, particularly Ms. Lavoisier, who is dressed in an over-the-top hat with a big plume and ribbons and garish fake flowers.
a working lady
What were the Met’s thoughts when they announced such a discovery? We live in an era where women demand to be treated seriously in the workplace. It seems ill-advised to publish a photo of a lady who is critical to standardizing the scientific process dressed in what seems to be a costume-party headpiece.
Wait, there’s more: a red tablecloth draped over a desk in the underpainting.
There wasn’t a single scientific equipment in sight. As a result, there is no evidence of the couple’s work. What’s the point of picturing a desk? They don’t seem to be doing anything but arranging dinner parties.
When the Met claims on its website that Jacques-Louis’ underpainting depicted the chemists “as fashionable members of the French aristocracy, rather than as the innovative and scientifically oriented pair,” it seems to be boasting. Yes, they were rich, and Jacques-Louis was first enthralled by their social status.
But he quickly came to his senses and saw them with their scientific equipment in full view.
If Jacques were alive, how humiliating this discovery would be, particularly considering his admission, quoted by art historians Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves in their 1972 book Artists on Art: “In France, there is no innate passion for the arts, but a manufactured taste… I’m trying to stay away from the dramatic.” And that’s what he did until the Met pushed itself beneath the artwork, which has been on display since 1977.
Invasion of personal space
Isn’t x-raying paintings like to going over early versions of a brilliant book and seeing all the mistakes? The underpainting, according to the Met’s assistant curator David Pullins, provides “an alternative lens through which to view it.” No.
It’s an invasion, not a lens. And on a massive scale. The artwork is almost nine feet tall and six feet wide.
Don’t you feel sorry for Jacques-Louis? The Metropolitan Museum of Art takes pleasure in bringing “lost art to light.” “Lost”? It was not misplaced. It was abandoned by the painter, who painted over it. Have some regard for one another.
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