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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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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Kimberly Hemphill
    Have conservators x-rayed other Magritte paintings to see if they can find the rest of the quartered painting? (It's quite Magritte-like to think of the other nude lurking underneath some ordinary, everyday scene...)
    (10 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Dayvyd
    Do we think the underlying painting is important to the final result, or did he just recycle an old canvas he thought not worth keeping?
    (5 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user James Hulce
    Is it common for artists to reuse or paint over a canvas?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Other recycling of "not art" includes years of the early broadcasts of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" from the 1960s. NBC, the network that broadcast the show, saved programs on tape for a while, then taped over them. Eventually, when Carson came to be regarded as a master of his craft, they ceased to recycle.
      (1 vote)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user cedepenyou
    how did the artist put those two pieces together and made it as one
    or did did the nude woman was a background and drew thicker the breakfast drawing?
    so how did he do it?
    (0 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Ellen B Cutler
      Not quite sure what you are asking. Do you want to know how an artist reuses a canvas given all the paint already on it? Most artists scrub the surface down with a solvent, more or less "erasing" the original image. This also smooths the surface of the canvas so that there aren't weird bumps and things. However, when an artist makes changes in a composition--or as here does something else entirely--there is frequently a "pentimento" that emerges. The word comes from the Italian for memory. As the surface layers of paint thin and the different layers of paint shift and age, the image underneath begins to become visible. It's just a ghost of an image, but it's wonderful when these things happen.
      (6 votes)

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.