France Inter: A treasure hidden behind the wall

A 17th century painting discovered by chance in a shop in Paris

by Delphine Evenou published on October 21, 2019 at 6:04 a.m.

During the interior works in of a Parisian luxury clothing boutique, the architects discovered, hidden behind a brick wall, a monumental canvas.

The Marquis of Nointel arriving in Jerusalem
The Marquis de Nointel arriving in Jerusalem © Radio France / Delphine Evenou

The canvas is six meters long and three meters high
. It could have stayed out of the light and the eyes for a very long time, if the fashion house Oscar de la Renta had not decided to open its first boutique in Paris rue de Marignan, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Élysées. During the restructuring and landscaping, the architects knocked down a brick wall. Behind is another wall, covered with what looks like an old painting.

An all-black picture

“The painting was all black, but my instinct told me there was something behind it,” recalls restorer Benoît Janson, who was able to see the work “in his juice”. Oscar de la Renta’s general manager, Alex Bolen, clearly had the same intuition: when the discovery was announced, he jumped on a plane from the United States. When he arrived in Paris, he decided to finance the restoration of the painting, to the tune of tens of thousands of euros.

The canvas sits at the bottom of the Oscar de la Renta wedding dress salon
The canvas sits at the bottom of the wedding dress room Oscar de la Renta / Delphine Evenou

For six months, with his team, Benoît Janson will lighten the old varnish, remove the layers of paint dating from previous renovations, also retouch the areas of the painting. After careful work, the gigantic canvas regains its original brilliance and delivers its story, or at least a part.

The work has not delivered all its secrets

The painting, dated 1673, depicts the Marquis of Nointel and his escort upon their arrival in Jerusalem. French Ambassador to the Middle East, Charles Marie François Olier, whose real name is Charles Marie François Olier, was sent by Louis XIV to establish trade links. The author of the work, however, remains difficult to determine: it could be Arnould de Vuez or Jacques Carrey, both students of Charles Le Brun’s school.

This painting is part of a set of four paintings on display on the walls of the apartments of the Marquis de Nointel in Constantinople, before his mission as a diplomat ended and the paintings, rolled on themselves, dispersed. One of the works is in the Athens Museum, two others have disappeared. The last one is now in a boutique in the chic districts of Paris, amidst the luxurious Oscar de la Renta wedding dresses.

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