War is nearly never good for the arts. During the Second World War alone, masterpieces by Canaletto, Durer, and Raphael were destroyed or lost, while living artists were suppressed and sometimes persecuted. In Europe, the Nazis clamped down hard on “degenerate art”, or art considered un-German. In 1937, the Nazis even organized an exhibit of such art to show what they sought to avoid. Countless works were destroyed in bonfires throughout the Nazi era. But this sort of behavior was not limited to Germany. For this story, we’re going to France.
In the 1920s and 1930s, fascists in France formed gangs and paramilitary groups, leading raids on meetings and events where degenerate art was displayed. One night in 1930, the Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel was showing his newest movie L’Age d’Or at a theater in Montmartre. Works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy were hanging on the lobby walls. Among them was Tanguy’s painting Fraud in the Garden. When the fascist groups raided the theater, all the works were thought to have been damaged or destroyed. One of the Dalí works was repaired and is now on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But Fraud in the Garden was believed to have certainly been lost in the raid. That is, until last week.
An anonymous French collector bought a surrealist painting at auction in 1985. Since then, the work’s owner has insisted that it was the original Fraud in the Garden by Yves Tanguy. Few believed him. Aside from the documented raid of the theater, his painting was in such good condition. But recently, Jennifer Mass, a restorer, and professor of cultural heritage science at Bard College, has determined that the painting is, in fact, the original Fraud in the Garden. According to Mass, the painting had indeed been slashed but expertly restored. This discovery is most opportune since Tanguy’s catalogue raisonné compiled by Charles Stuckey and Stephen Mack is nearly complete.