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« Poussin Connoisseurship Project | Main | More on Poussin »

05/03/2012

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Stephen Conrad, Art Historian

As a fellow Poussinist I have enjoyed reading your blogs, and look forward to your 'Poussin Project' but I think, if we are to be at all critical of the conservation of the Crossing of the Red Sea by the NGV, the more important change to the paint surface of this very large canvas than the head reversal, is what appears to be the reconstruction of the pillar of cloud at the extreme right of the picture. Just before this picture was sent to the 1960 Paris exhibition, where it was reunited with it pendant in the National Gallery in London for the first and last time since they were split up for the first time in their history in 1945, the picture was cleaned (in Melbourne?), when it was discovered that the pillar of cloud (not fire, though it may be pinkish in tone, judging from the few glimpses in the online film clip of the newly unveiled restored picture) was so damaged that it was covered up - as Blunt noted in 1966. A study of the Gantrel engraving (on which engraver Wildenstein remarks that he worked after copies not originals, in this case apparently one by Le Brun) may show a face turned round, but there is no pillar of cloud - at least in his tiny reproduction; but the fact that the far more accomplished Baudet made the engraving of the pendant in London, not Gantrel, is interesting, and of course has had consequences for the dating of the work and may be evidence that Poussin did not work on them at exactly the same time - or it may not! In any case, it is greatly to be hoped that the NGV will publish a monograph on the newly restored picture (as, for example, Lyon did when it acquired the 1651 Flight into Egypt) so that the present more advanced technical restoration may be judged against that of 1960, and subsequent photographs until now. Ideally, we can only hope that the National Gallery in London (which cannot lend its picture due to the vandalism it suffer in the early 1980s) may request and be granted the chance to exhibit the pair together for the first time in over 50 years, so that contemporary scholars and the public unable to get to Melbourne may have a chance to study the two pendants. As with the London gallery's restoration of the Leonardo Madonna of the Rocks and the Louvre's cleaning of Leonardo's St Anne, the lengthy time taken by the NGV to clean this important and sadly little known Poussin (simply because of distance) speaks of far more careful conservation work undertaken than in 1960, and publication of the entire process is essential to assure scholars and the public that all changes made to the paint surface are informed and well-judged. It is unlikely that the NGV would not do so, and your blog is certainly right to ask the question.

Stephen Conrad

Hi David

I've been studying the new book on the Melbourne picture, but it is full of rather small illustrations, and frustratingly the one large photograph of the restored picture (across the book's gutter) does not show the pillar of red cloud/fire, as they have evidently cropped the photograph to avoid reproducing the overhanging rebates of the frame on p. 27, though this can be seen in the detail reproduced in the frame on p. 28 and on the front end flap. The Lebrun? copy on loan to Stanford University Museum is also reproduced, but again too small. Much of what we read here was stated in the NGV's online progress blog.

More interestingly perhaps, I have found a reference to the National Gallery's acquisition of the Golden Calf in Audrey Tyndall's little book 'Claude and the Poussins (Themes and Painters in the National Gallery Series 2 Number 4)' published in 1976, where we learn, on p.6, that 'This picture was separated from its pendant, for the first time, in 1945, when the Gallery was unable to purchase, also, The Crossing of the Red Sea which is now in Melbourne.'

Edward Robinson

I am not that knowledgeable about the story until I read the post. Thank you for this. Though there are many issues raised here, I do have now a clearer insight of the story.

coffin world

an avid painter here ..this is a very informative post, i was actually planning to go to Melbourne and see Nicolas Poussin's works in person.

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