Perhaps this belongs on the PCP site- news of the completion of the restoration of Poussin’s Crossing of the Red Sea, a painting in National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
This report from ABC news reproduces two photos of a section of the painting: one section before cleaning; another after restoration. You’ll see the back of the head of a young man, which according to the curators in this report was Poussin’s correction to a face he originally painted but didn’t like. They base this observation on the study of related visual sources such as engravings and replicas. In this interview the curators are talking about a “new look” to Poussin’s painting, which always rings alarm bells with me, not to mention raising the question of what the paintings looked like back in the 17th century- the of issue Poussin’s original intentions. To quote from ABC News:
|Crossing section in its current state after restoration.||Crossing section before cleaning.|
Senior conservator Carl Villis says the "new look" of the painting actually brings the painting much closer to its original appearance.
For example the face of one of the figures in the painting was visible and now only the back of the head is seen.
"He [Poussin] did originally paint the face but decided he didn't like it and covered it up," Mr Villis said.
"The replica had the face turned round the other way as did an engraving and a tapestry that were also made.
"So we knew that this head was actually supposed to be turned round the other way."
Of course I knew about this restoration- but not the specifics of the cleaning, and certainly not this head alteration; but now the PCP has been launched, it seems appropriate to refer to this restoration again. As to Melbourne’s own “Poussin Project”, while I respectfully hear what the curators and restorers are saying about the head in engravings seemingly conveying Poussin’s original intention, that turned figure doesn’t gell with me. It’s not really a Poussin motif.
To be fair to the Australian curators, I’d have to study some sources in relation to the painting before judging their claims about Poussin’s original ideas for this figure, and one could start with a copy by Le Brun after Poussin’s original, from which many engravings derive. I won't say anything more about this case- maybe return to it on the PCP in the future. However, the issue of cleaning, restoration, and the original state of Poussin’s work will certainly figure in my first painting on the PCP, which is in a state of soon-come.
Here’s a reproduction of the whole painting pre-restoration. It’s not a very good one- but it gives you an idea of the composition and its figuration. I’ve had this in my files for ages, and in it you can see the figure in black looking out, at centre left. Of course this has been reversed and we now see the back of his head.
|Nicolas Poussin, The Crossing of the Red Sea, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, c 1634-5, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, oil on canvas, 154 x 210 cm.|