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A Hidden Look At Cézanne In Cincinnati

December 20, 2022
A still life painting of a tabletop with some baguettes, eggs, onions, a metal pitcher, a glass, and a knife

Still Life with Bread and Eggs by Paul Cézanne

Great paintings hiding in plain sight are nothing new in museums. Artists have used old canvases to create new paintings for centuries, whether to cut costs and save canvas or to hide unsatisfactory work. Many masters like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Botticelli, among many others, created some of their works on used canvases. The Cincinnati Museum of Art (CMA) recently became the site of another one of these discoveries after conservators noticed something strange about one of the Cézanne paintings in their collection.

Still Life with Bread and Eggs was created around 1865 when Cézanne was in his mid-20s. It’s a simple still-life, similar to the tabletops of food, tableware, and trinkets seen in Golden Age Dutch paintings. Recently, one of the conservators at the CMA noticed a series of cracks in the pigment. Rather than exposing a small sliver of the canvas, they noticed white paint, made easier by the still-life’s dark background. X-ray technology is becoming increasingly commonplace in the field of art conservation. The CMA did not have an on-site x-ray machine to examine the Cézanne, instead they had to call a local medical company to bring the right equipment. After scanning the work, they saw something incredibly surprising. It was a portrait of a young man, but something was off about the subject’s pose. While most portraits by Cézanne have the subject fully facing the viewer, the subject of the newly-revealed hidden painting is facing the viewer with his body turned away, making it most likely a self-portrait. If this is a self-portrait, it is an incredible find since painted self-portraits from Cézanne’s early career are incredibly rare. There is even a possibility that this may be the artist’s first self-portrait. Serena Urry, the CMA’s chief conservator, responded to the news stating, “We went from having two Cezannes to three with this discovery”. The CMA is reaching out to the world’s experts on Paul Cézanne since there are still many unanswered questions about the portrait.