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Paul Cézanne, “Le Golfe de Marseille vu de L’Estaque,” Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Ca. 1879. (RF 2761 = FWN 119) (detail).

The Nantucket Cézanne: partially cleaned (Nov. 2022)

Introduction

In July 2022 I was shown a remarkable painting.  Executed in oils on paper, glued to a stretched canvas, it was uncleaned, in neglected condition, framed in a simple wooden frame scuffed around the edges; it was coated with a heavy, crackled varnish that had deeply yellowed.  It was obviously very old, unrestored and untouched, and it was unsigned. It was an almost exact duplicate of Paul Cézanne’s famous 1879 painting in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, entitled “Le Golfe de Marseille vu de L’Estaque” (The Gulf of Marseille seen from [the village of] L’Estaque) (RF 2761) (above left). The new painting (above right) appeared to be Cézanne’s preliminary oil sketch for the other!

The painting was discovered by two friends, the present co-owners, in the hands of an antique dealer in Connecticut (from whom they purchased it).  The dealer claimed that some years previously his deceased partner (a specialist in whaling antiques) had bought the picture at an estate sale on Nantucket and had discovered the Cézanne link. He had realized its importance but had never been able to sell it due to the skepticism of all those he showed it to. The possibility of forgery, however, seemed to be out of the question since there was no evidence of any attempt to deceive.  When news of this unrecorded picture was sent to the Committee of three experts managing Cézanne’s catalogue raisonné (i.e., the compilation of all the artist’s known works), their immediate response was to deny it as a work by Cézanne. (Had they confirmed it, the painting would at once have been valued in millions of dollars).  Instead, without having examined it, they identified it only as a copy of the other painting by an anonymous imitator of Cézanne seeking to “understand Cézanne’s methodology” (a judgement which allowed them a “safe” retreat, but which effectively prevented the painting from being taken seriously by other Cézanne scholars and collectors – this, despite the fact that there were no known copyists of Cezanne in his lifetime!).  In response to this opinion, which we felt was unwarranted, the two owners and I (as their researcher), decided to challenge the Committee and to launch this website to present the full scope of the evidence supporting the authenticity of the painting, so that all art historians, museum curators, and interested collectors could judge the painting’s merits for themselves.

In the following pages, we will present what we believe is overwhelming evidence that the painting is Cézanne’s work; that there was no anonymous copyist, that it is the artist’s preliminary study for his painting in the Musée d’Orsay, and that, by multiple lines of circumstantial evidence, the painting can almost certainly be shown to have been exhibited in Paris at Cézanne’s first public single-artist exhibitions in 1895 and/or 1898, when it was almost certainly  purchased by an American, who brought it to the States and, most likely, hung it in his or her summer home on Nantucket.  There, being unsigned, the painting’s identity would eventually have been forgotten by the owner’s heirs, and the picture, lost among other bric-a-brac, thus passed, perhaps a century later, from an estate sale to the antiques market.  The story is a thrilling one, and we invite all art connoisseurs, both amateur and professional, to examine the evidence presented here – and to try to imagine how this painting could not be by Cézanne!  (If you can make a case against it, please notify us!)  The work is another example of the extraordinary hidden treasures that still lie “out there” to be found – even in the unlikeliest of places!

We would welcome a full laboratory and art historical examination of the painting by any independent consultants working on behalf of any interested party.

 

                                                                                                                                               Timothy Kendall, Ph. D.[1],

                                                                                                                                               July 1, 2023.

[1] https://whitelevy.fas.harvard.edu/people/timothy-kendall