On 2 May, Nicolas Poussin’s newly restored seventeenth century masterpiece, The Crossing of the Red Sea, was back on display at Australia’s oldest public art gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria.
The painting underwent an intensive 15 month conservation project which was supported by the BNP Paribas Foundation and BNP Paribas in Australia.
An extensive technical examination of the painting was carried out before the treatment began, revealing a number of troubling issues relating to the surface of the painting. In particular, the upper half of the painting had suffered from past cleaning attempts, resulting in the loss of several important details.
Fortunately the rediscovery in 2009 of a long-lost replica – painted around 50 years later than the original – showed just how different Poussin’s sky once looked. Using this high-quality replica as a guide, the NGV were able to reinstate some of those missing details. For the first time in generations, Poussin’s wonderful painting is closer to its original appearance.
French 1594–1665, worked in Italy
The Crossing of the Red Sea c.1634
oil on canvas
155.6 x 215.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1948
Photo: National Gallery of Victoria
In addition, the spectacularly carved gilt frame commissioned for the painting c.1710, was also conserved by the NGV. The frame treatment included reinstating small losses to the ornately carved decorative elements, most notably along the sight edge of the image area, allowing visitors to the Gallery to view one of the finest examples of Regence framing in a more completed state.
This important restoration project has ensured the masterpiece can continue to be enjoyed by the Australian community for generations to come.