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Conservation | René Magritte, "The Portrait," 1935

For more information please visit http://www.moma.org/magritte
Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

- In preparation for the Magritte exhibition, we began examining The Portrait, from 1935. What started as a fairly routine conservation treatment uncovered some very interesting details about Magritte's painting. As soon as we unframed The Portrait, we noticed something unusual. The paint actually went around the edges, and it was painted on all four sides. That was unusual for Magritte, because normally, you can see the white, priming layer on all the edges. - We began with our normal examination process, which involves taking the painting into the photo studio. In ultraviolet, I noticed that there was some sort of discoloration that was occurring, that it wasn't clear if it was in the varnish that was present, or something coming from beneath the surface. Proceeding with the cleaning, I used a solvent-based solution to remove the varnish, and once that was complete, again took the painting back into the photo studio. I could still see that form underneath, but it was even more robust. What was happening, is, something underneath was fluorescing differently than the upper paint layer. In the darkroom, I held each x-ray film up to the light box, but you can only see one film at a time, and it looked very unusual. It looked like there was something else underneath the bottle, something else underneath the plate, something else underneath the glass. But without having them all together, I couldn't make it out, and it just looked like a series of confusing brush strokes. I actually rotated the x-ray to the left, 90 degrees. I spent about a half an hour sitting on the floor in front of it, tracing my finger long it until I could make out the form underneath. I moved them closer and closer and let them overlap, and I could see the outline of a nude woman beneath. I was shocked and immediately got out my phone and took pictures and texted my colleagues to get the word out as fast as possible. - After seeing this incredible image emerge from underneath the portrait, we were immediately wanting to know what the source was. One of my colleagues from the Menil Collection happened to be here and see it, and suggested a painting that was actually done by Magritte in 1927, and was thought to be lost. This work under The Portrait actually matched a quarter of a section of The Enchanted Pose, which was a much larger painting. Now, we believe that he must have cut up the painting into four sections and re-used the sections for paintings in 1935. - I've been working at MoMA for a little over five years now, and been fortunate enough to help with a lot of x-radiography that is performed here, but this was a first for me, and probably the opportunity of a lifetime.