‘New’ Cézanne discovery among range of experiences at CAM this week

Cincinnati Art Museum open New Year’s Eve and Day

While examining Paul Cézanne’s “Still Life with Bread and Eggs” for possible treatment and cleaning, Serena Urry, Cincinnati Art Museum chief conservator, noticed some odd cracks, which she thought might be signs of something underneath.

“I had a hunch,” said Urry. She had the painting x-rayed to see if the still life was painted over an earlier work.

The digital x-ray image revealed a well-defined portrait hidden beneath the original painting, which is a display of food and drink on a kitchen table.

The still life, made in 1865, is one of only a handful of works that Cézanne dated, so the portrait underneath the still life could be the earliest firmly dated portrait by the artist, according to the CAM. Several features apparently suggest it could be a self-portrait.

“Serena had an excellent hunch. We are lucky it came into the lab when it did, because intuition like that can only come from extensive experience with historical paintings and deep understanding of the working methods of 19th-century artists, both of which she has in spades,” said Peter Jonathan Bell, PhD, curator of European paintings, sculpture and drawings at the CAM. “This is a huge discovery!”

The French painter Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) participated in the first Impressionist exhibitions in the 1870s, before charting his own artistic course in the 1880s and ‘90s. Considered a leader of the Postimpressionist movement, he is one of the most influential artists in the history of modern painting.

“We want to follow up in the coming months and years by conducting more imaging and analysis of the painting and research into the portrait’s subject, ideally in partnership with an institution well-equipped for technical study and with leading Cézanne scholars,” said Bell. “This will result in a publication and possibly an exhibition, as we seek to reveal as much as we can about this important, long-hidden portrait.”

“Still Life with Bread and Eggs” was acquired by the CAM in 1955, a gift of Cincinnati philanthropist and modern art collector, Mary E. Johnston, and is one of two paintings by Cézanne in the museum’s permanent collection.

“We went from having two Cézannes to three with this discovery,” said Urry.

View the painting—part of CAM’s collection—and an image of the x-ray revealing the hidden portrait.

Other exhibitions currently at the CAM:

If you have children to entertain or inspire, have them create in the Rosenthal Education Center (REC). 

  • REC the Halls (through Dec. 31): Get a head start on next year’s holiday décor. Enjoy holiday art making and create cards and decorations, including a pompom garland for your front door or tree.
  • Learn about artists inspired by dance through hands-on activities, art making, music, and dance itself during the REC’s Art in Motion program. Try on professional ballet costumes from the Cincinnati Ballet, learn a bharatanatyam namaskar dance salutation from India, and more.

Cincinnati Art Museum hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., with extended hours Thursday until 8 p.m. Thursday. See “Beyond Bollywood” for free from 5-8 p.m. Thursday.