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Cincinnati's hidden Cézanne

It was true detective intuition that allowed the chief curator of the Cincinnati Museum of Art to discover what is probably a self-portrait of Paul Cézanne behind his still life "Aux pains et aux œufs", painted in 1865.

This canvas is one of the few dated works by Cézanne, so the portrait believed to be hidden underneath could be the artist's first dated portrait.

Maximilien Luce. La rue Mouffetard. Indianapolis Museum of Art
Paul Cézanne. Nature Morte au pain et aux œufs. 1865. Cincinnati Art Museum

While examining Paul Cézanne's Still Life with Bread and Eggs for possible treatment and cleaning, the Cincinnati Museum of Art's chief curator, Serena Urry, noticed strange cracks indicating that the work might be hiding a secret.

"I had a hunch," Serena Urry said. She had the painting X-rayed to see if the still life had been painted over an earlier work.

Imagine her surprise when the digital X-ray image revealed a very real portrait hidden under the paint of breads and eggs laid out on a kitchen table as it appears today!

Paul Cézanne. Autoportrait aux longs cheveux. 1865.
Paul Cézanne. Autoportrait aux longs cheveux. 1865.

A self-portrait "Cézanne with long hair", now lost and of which we only have a black and white representation, was painted the same year and leads us to think that the figure hidden behind the still life could resemble him...

La radiographie du tableau de Paul Cézanne et l'apparition du visage. Surprenant !
The x-ray of the painting and the appearance of the face. Surprising!

Other information, including hidden paint colors, could be obtained using state-of-the-art technologies such as multispectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence mapping.

Musée de Cincinnati. © site du musée
Musée d'Art de Cincinnati. © site du musée

“We want to follow up in the months and years to come by conducting more imagery and analysis of the painting and research into the subject of portraiture, ideally in partnership with an institution well equipped for technical study and with leading scholars of Paul Cézanne,” said Jonathan Bell, curator of European paintings at the museum.

Many artists have reused canvases, and in recent times paintings have been found hidden under works by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and other famous artists with the help of X-rays and other technologies.

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