In Paris, the incredible story of a work of art found by chance
Eric Le Mitouard February 2019
Who is the painter of this amazing canvas of 6 m long found, by chance, on the construction site of the future shop Oscar de la Renta, rue de Marignan.
Benoit Janson and his team at work./LP/Eric Le Mitouard.
Experts can’t believe their eyes. On the vast construction site of the future Oscar de la Renta boutique, workers and architects discovered a 17th century painting. Restored, it now reveals all its splendor.
The construction of major works was underway this summer in the future shop Oscar de la Renta, an American luxury clothing brand that was to make the event by moving to 4 rue de Marignan (VIII). It was even planned to do the fashion week shows there this week, once the work was completed. All this was before the discovery of a master’s canvas, of a student of Le Brun, glued to the wall, behind poorly joined panels. A work that is now imposed in a room under construction, with its scaffolding and its plastic protections.
“We were in the middle of a curettage operation. The wooden panels were removed from the upstairs room and came across this painting,” says one member of interior designer Nathalie Ryan’s team. A brake on the construction site. A big step in the history of art.
Immediately, Alex Bolen, the ceo of Oscar de la Renta, was notified of the discovery. He immediately took a plane from New York and landed in Paris to admire this painting that had passed through three and a half centuries. “When we found it, it was totally darkened,” says a site manager.
Oscar de la Renta’s management quickly recruited a restaurateur, Benoit Janson. And the renaissance, for two months, allows to admire this 17th century painting with its original colors that gradually reappear… despite the old repainted, and the restoration work in progress.
Benoit Janson, conservation and restoration expert in Paris, at work./LP/Eric Le Mitouard.
Restorer and historians then investigate this mysterious painting 6 m long by 3 high… which even crosses the floor of the 1st floor about thirty centimeters. An exceptional dimension that could still have been completely erased from the history of art if the work had not been undertaken with care.
This is the story of an ambassador of Louis XIV in Constantinople
“Originally, this work was presented on a stretcher. The canvas was then dismantled and rolled before being glued on this wall, says Benoit Janson, an expert in conservation and restoration in Paris. The work was done at the time in the rules of the art, with good grip and applied to the wall in a very flat way. The varnish had yellowed and was totally oxidized. The colors are totally off.” The clogging of time had done its job. “Today, we see the beautiful aesthetic quality of the painting and its good technical quality,” he points out.
While the construction site is forbidden to the public and the ensign Oscar de la Renta tried to keep the information secret – while informing the New York Times – art historians are flocking to the site with their certainties… and many questions.
In terms of certainties, it is the description of the work: Charles Marie François Olier, Marquis de Nointel, ambassador to Constantinople of Louis XIV, is shown there with his escort in front of Jerusalem. Riders are dressed in the fashion of the Great Century entering the city. The ramparts, the Omar Mosque and the Wailing Wall can be seen in the distance. The spirit is orientalist and the vegetation lush.
Another painting at the Athens Museum
The Marquis de Nointel is known for having four large paintings made about his epics in the Middle East in 1673. They were installed on four large walls of a ceremonial salon in Constantinople. On his return to France, at the end of his duties, he won all his collections, some of which are currently at the Louvre. He would have rolled his canvases. “One of them is currently in the Museum of Athens. The second is here, while two others have disappeared, says Guy Meyer, researcher and art specialist, for whom this discovery “is a historical event, totally improbable”.
For him, this mansion would have belonged in 1850, to the banker Mosselman who installed the canvas in his living room. Was it he who decided to give a fresh start to his interior decoration by veiling the painting? Did he want to hide it? Anyway, now unveiled, the painting still keeps its secrets.
Who painted this work?
For we must now attribute this painting to a painter. Two names are fighting in a duel. Jacques Carrey drew the life of the Ottoman world in the footsteps of the Marquis de Nointel. Others believe that the author of this work would more surely be the painter Arnould de Vuez, close to Charles Le Brun at the court of Louis XIV. He too took part in a study trip to Constantinople organized by the Marquis de Nointel.
Today, the musem of the history of France in Versailles, the curators want to be careful before having expertized the work … Untransportable.
The layout of the future Store Oscar de la Renta is reviewed is corrected. “We’re going to totally restore this painting. It will be located in the showroom for wedding dresses and evening gowns,” it is revealed on the spot. A lounge open by invitation.