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5. The Condition of the Nantucket Painting as Found

When found in 2016, the painting was in unrestored condition, coated with an old, yellowed organic varnish and set in a plain, scuffed, grey-painted wooden frame (fig. 25).  The painting was unusual in that it was painted in oil on paper, which was glued to a stretched canvas (figs. 26, 27).  The varnished, painted paper surface showed slight buckling (fig. 28) as well as minor scratches and two tiny puncture holes.  The edges of the paper were secured to the canvas and stretcher by strips of tape, now brittle and cracked.  The tape strips, which were added after the paint and varnish were dry, had been folded neatly around and under the sides of the stretcher (fig. 27).  The varnish itself was applied in rows of short, parallel diagonal brushstrokes (as seen especially in the sky) (fig. 28).  This varnish layer, originally transparent, over time oxidized to a dark yellow, causing all the original, underlying colors to darken to an ochre or brownish hue. The surface of the painting (before cleaning) exhibited intense craquelure (figs. 26, 30).

 

Fig. 25. The Nantucket painting as found, before cleaning.
Fig. 26:  Detail showing the taped edges and varnished paper surface of the painting, which was glued to a stretched canvas.  Note the heavy craquelure and the ripples of the underlying primer layer, made with a palette knife.
Fig. 27:  The stretcher is a five-member, butt-joined unit with all ten keys present.  The tape, visible on the front (fig. 26), can be seen here neatly folded back on the beveled rear sides of the stretcher frame. The back of the stretcher is uninscribed (For a comparison of the stretchers of FWN 119 and this painting, see Part 12, figs. 38 a-b).

 

Fig. 28. Detail of the upper left hand corner of the painting in raking light before cleaning. Note that the paper surface has begun to buckle.  The larger and smaller parallel diagonal brushstrokes are a signature feature of Cézanne’s paintings. (Compare Part 12, figs. 42, 43a-e). The background of the painting was first painted with thinned oils, used like watercolors (cf. Part 12, figs 45 a, b). The artist then varnished the picture with an organic resin varnish.  When the varnish was dry, he felt unsatisfied with the result, so he overpainted the sea surface with heavy blue highlights and the hills with rows of short diagonal brushstrokes of grey and mauve paint.  The effect presented by the picture is that of a “sketch” preceding the production of FWN 119.

 

Fig. 29.  Another surface detail of the painting before cleaning, showing the craquelure, the impasto daubs of white paint on the lighter features, the crude overpainting of the varnish along the waterline, and the whisp of heavy white paint to indicate a sailboat – which appears in the same spot in FWN 119.  FWN 119 exhibits no such hurried or careless overpainting.

 

Fig. 30. The foreground prior to cleaning.