The art world is replete with mysteries, many hidden in plain sight.
In what was supposed to be a routine cleaning, the Art Institute of Chicago’s recent restoration of Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day uncovered details about the artist’s original intention that have been buried under varnish for decades.
Conservator Faye Wrubel and assistant paintings conservator Kelly Keegan recently discussed these findings in a lecture at the Art Institute, proving that even in the case of beloved masterpiece, there’s more than meets the eye.
Completed in 1877, the painting spent at least 50 years stored in a French chateau before eventually being purchased by the Art Institute in 1964.
While there is no record of a previous restoration, Wrubel estimates a treatment occurred a half-century ago before the work was sold. Using ultraviolet, x-ray, microscopy, and infrared imaging in their analysis, the conservation team discovered dark blotches in the sky indicating a layer of paint had been added.
Wrubel painstakingly began removing the varnish from the massive 6-by-9 foot canvas using cotton swabs.
She even turned the work upside down to reach the top of the painting for cleaning. The old varnish had blanched the painting’s surface, giving it a milky appearance.
The striking results of the restoration reveals greater saturation of color, sharper edges, and more contrast with an overall effect of more visual depth. Overpainting was removed from the once yellow sky, exposing a bluer surface with gradation indicating light and movement.
“What we have been seeing all these years may have been beautiful, we may have all loved it, but it wasn’t right,” Wrubel said of the findings’ impact.