A Cincinnati Art Museum Chief Conservator has discovered what could be a self-portrait by a young Paul Cézanne beneath a moody still life painted when the artist was about 26 years old.
Serena Urry was in the middle of a routine examination Cézanne’s Still Life with Bread and Eggs (1865) to see if the work needed cleaning when she discovered small cracks under which shone a bright white paint that clearly wasn’t part of the still life, according to a release from the Museum.
On a hunch, she had the painting X-rayed. The resulting digital images revealed a “well-defined portrait” hidden beneath the still life with features that suggest the subject of the newly discovered work may have been Cézanne himself.
“I think everyone’s opinion is that it’s a self-portrait … He’s posed in the way a self-portrait would be: in other words, he’s looking at us, but his body is turned,” Urry told CNN. “If it were a portrait of someone other than himself, it would probably be full frontal,” she added.
When Still Life with Bread and Eggs was painted, Cézanne was still under the spell of Realists like Gustave Courbet and Spanish Baroque paintings. But in a few years, he would be showing in the first Impressionist exhibitions in the 1870s, and would later develop his singular style that paved the way for Modern Art.
“We want to follow up in the coming months and years by conducting more imaging and analysis of the painting and research into the portrait’s subject, ideally in partnership with an institution well-equipped for technical study and with leading Cézanne scholars,” said Peter Jonathan Bell, PhD, Curator of European Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
According to the museum Still Life with Bread and Eggs was acquired in 1955, a gift from the philanthropist and collector Mary E. Johnson, and is one of two Cézannes in their collection. Until now, “we went from having two Cézannes to three with this discovery,” said Urry.