Beneath This Early Cezanne Painting, a 'Huge Discovery'

X-ray reveals what Cincinnati Art Museum conservator believes to be a self-portrait
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2022 10:09 AM CST
Beneath This Early Cezanne Painting, a 'Huge Discovery'
An X-ray image of Paul Cezanne's "Still Life with Bread and Eggs," revealing a portrait beneath the paint.   (Cincinnati Art Museum)

The Cincinnati Art Museum believes it's found a self portrait of Paul Cezanne hidden beneath a still-life painting that's been in its collection for nearly 70 years. Chief conservator Serena Urry was inspecting Cezanne's 1865 oil painting "Still Life with Bread and Eggs" when she spotted small cracks in two particular areas, which revealed white paint in sharp contrast to the painting's dark background. "I thought there might be something underneath that we should look at," Urry tells CNN. She arranged to X-ray the 2.5-foot-wide work and in piecing together the images saw clear "blotches of white." But in turning the X-ray image 90 degrees, she saw something that stunned her.

"I was all alone but I think I said 'wow' out loud," Urry tells CNN. She was looking at an image of a man, his face and hairline clearly visible to the right of the painting's water glass. It's "one of the earliest known portraits by Cezanne," Urry writes on the museum's website. (The link includes images.) But it could be even more special, representing one of the earliest depictions of the painter himself, who was in his mid-20s when the 1865 painting was completed. "I think everyone's opinion is that it's a self-portrait," Urry tells CNN. "He's posed in the way a self-portrait would be: in other words, he's looking at us, but his body is turned." She notes if it were a portrait of someone other than Cezanne, the position "would probably be full frontal."

"This is a huge discovery!" Peter Jonathan Bell, the museum's curator of European paintings, sculpture and drawings, says in a release. Museum officials are in "the process of discovering as much as we can about the portrait," which "will include collaborating with Cezanne experts around the world to identify the sitter," he adds, per CNN. The museum notes "multi-spectral imaging and x-ray fluorescence mapping" could reveal the colors of the hidden painting and more about how it was made. As Cezanne doesn’t appear to have removed much paint from the canvas before starting afresh, Urry speculates that he may have felt sudden inspiration and reused an old canvas. (Sketches were just found under this famed painting.)

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