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Current time:0:00Total duration:2:35

Conservation | René Magritte, "The Menaced Assassin," 1927

Video transcript

- This is Rene Magritte's Menaced Assassin from 1927. In preparation for the exhibition, we did some treatment, and also some technical examinations. One of the techniques we used for examining the painting was infrared light, and that typically shows underdrawing. In some cases you can see details, where, for instance, in the toe of the man standing in the center, the table leg actually was painted over the figure. Particularly in 1927, when he painted a lot of large paintings, you can really see he was working very quickly and economically to get these big images ready for his gallery show. In the transmitted light, where you actually shine a light from behind the canvas, so you can see details in the brushwork. You can see he used a much finer brush for the details in the faces, and in the case of the three small heads in the center, he also used a kind of varnish to accentuate the faces. We also saw that particularly in the black paint, our theory is that Magritte used a commercial paint to mix in with the blacks to make them more rich and glossy, to accent details, in particular, in the shoulders of the figures on the left and right. When it was first acquired by MoMA, the conservators described the surface as moldy, and they thought that this patchy appearance was due to actual mold contamination. We actually discovered that this kind of patchy appearance is mainly due to zinc in the ground. The commercial canvases that Magritte used had a thick layer of zinc in the priming layer, and over time, especially in a thin paint layer, the zinc can actually come to the surface, and that seems to have happened in this case. The treatment and examination took about a year, and now, you really get to see Magritte as is intended, with the palette looking very fresh and differences in the nuances of the brushwork visible, and all this is now very apparent after the recent conservation treatment.