The greatest picture in the world stop
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Annetje Boersma is an independent restorer in Rotterdam, specialised in paintings from the 15th to the 19th century. Several freelance restorers work with her in her studio, some of which graduated after working with her here. Boersma has carried out major restoration projects for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, some of which were displayed to the public together with a presentation and/or publication. For example The life of Achilles, about a series of oil paint sketches by P.P. Rubens, Masterpiece or copy, about two versions of Anthony van Dyck’s St. Hieronymous (ARTtube video) and Tobit and Anna, a discussion between scholars about the authenticity of this Rembrandt (ARTtube video 1, ARTtube video 2).Eva van Zuien graduated in 2009, is specialised in old art and since her graduation has worked as an independent restorer, including at the studio of Annetje Boersma.
UV photography was used because materials fluoresce in different ways under UV light. Old varnishes fluoresce strongly (yellow-green), while overpaintings appear dark because they absorb all radiation. An X-ray photograph can make all areas containing lead white visible. An infrared reflectogram reveals pigments containing carbon (often the under drawing).
Noorderheide Mansion was built between 1938 and 1941 by architect Frits Eschauzier on the estate of the same name in Vierhouten (Gelderland); it was commissioned by D.G. van Beuningen. The house has two parallel wings on an open courtyard. Living room, study and dining-room are situated next to each other on the south; the kitchen and servants’ quarters are on the north. The house was once a small private museum, thanks to the valuable art collection housed there. This was donated in 1958 to the Rotterdam Boijmans Museum, and in gratitude ‘Van Beuningen’ was added to the museum’s name. Descendants of D.G. van Beuningen occupied the house until early 2008.The house is now a listed property but it is still a meeting place for the members of the family who are spread around the world. In addition, it is used as location for ‘quiet’ conferences, (classical) concerts, lectures and other private occasions.
D.G. van Beuningen
The Rotterdam tycoon Daniel George van Beuningen (1877-1955) came from a wealthy family of merchants and industrialists and was a decisive entrepreneur. He was on the board of the Coal Trading Association, owned a shipyard and several other companies associated with the harbour and acquired a fortune. In addition, he was a true pillar of society. His art collection, which also included the controversial Koenigs collection, was renowned. A book about the life of D.G. van Beuningen has been written by Harry van Wijnen, entitled: Grootvorst aan de Maas [Great Baron near the river Meuse].
In July 2004, the American art historian Elon Danziger published an extended article about the Cook collection in the Burlington Magazine (CXLVI, pp. 444-458); his website also provides information about the collection and links to source material (some of which, unfortunately, are no longer active). Many works from the Cook Collection are currently in the National Gallery of Washington, where there is also a photo album with photographs of the collection in the various galleries.
Gosschaert and Master of Aix
The Hermaphrodite by Gosschaert and Jeseja by the Master of Aix (Barthelemy d’Eyck) are now both in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, under numbers 2451 (OK) and 2463 (OK) respectively. Initially The Three Mary’s at the Tomb was not allowed to leave England. But when Van Beuningen brought out a bid of 250,000 pounds and with it knocked the London National Gallery out of the game, the export prohibition had to be lifted.
Vera Ryder-Cook, the eldest daughter of the third baron (Herbert) and sister of the fourth (Francis) has written a book with memories of her youth entitled: The Little Victims Play, an Edwardian Childhood, London, 1974. On page 73 she describes walking through the Long Gallery to the organ on which she had to practise.
“With sinking heart, I leave the warm, bright lived-in part of the house and creeping through the first gallery soon find myself standing on the steps leading into the right side of the double gallery, usually called the Long Gallery. On my left, on a gilded chest, ‘The Three Mary’s’ by Van Eyke, the treasure of the collection. This picture, after hair-raising escapades during World War Two when for some time it was ‘lost’ on the Continent finished up safely in Holland in the Van Beuningen collection in Rotterdam, where it is now.”.
Doughty House today
During the Second World War, Doughty House was hit by a bomb and after the war, the fourth baron, Francis Cook (who also sold The three Mary’s at the tomb) was no longer able to maintain his possessions. He sold the greater part of the collection and settled as an artist on the island of Jersey. Doughty House came into the possession of the Metaxides family, who only used the residential quarters. The family sold the house at the end of the ‘eighties, but the oldest son, Andre Metaxides, bought it back in the early ‘nineties. He had the idea of giving Doughty House, which in the meantime had been designated National Heritage, a cultural function and returning it to its former glory. Unfortunately that has not as yet proved successful and for that reason the house was put up for sale for 15,000,000 pounds in April 2012.
Paint composition and glaze
Painting in various layers with a variety of transparency is labour-intensive. Usually, the transparent paint layers are applied on a dry underpainting, whereby the glaze (the transparent layer) is fatter than the underlying layer. Because any brush strokes would be visible from the underpainting through the transparent layer, a glaze had to spread without brush strokes. Van Eyck also did it the other way round: first a glaze and then a more covering layer. Each pigment has its own specific characteristics for coverage (non-transparent) and transparency (transparent). There are pigments with a high coverage and one with a high transparency. There are also pigments with a transparency or coverage that is between the two.
During the restoration, Annetje Boersma and Eva van Zuien hit upon a non-removable transparent layer. This layer can be recognised in the paint cross sections under UV light and are found in both the decoration of the cloaks and in the golden rays under the gilding. If the golden decoration on the cloak is original (and that can be assumed), then the golden rays are also original. In addition, the conclusion may be drawn that the painting still contains traces of the original 15th century varnish of Van Eyck.
When, after the war, The Three Mary’s at the Tomb surfaced unharmed, Van Beuningen decided to have it restored. The famous Belgian restorer Jef van der Veken (1872-1964) spent several weeks at the Noorderheide Estate in 1947 for that purpose. Van Beuningen and Van der Veken decided not to replace the panel in the enormous frame which it was in when it arrived from England, and chose a simple wooden frame which it still has today.
Jacob and Pieter II Adornes are contemporaries of Jan van Eyck. They were born in the ‘nineties of the 14th century and developed a great adoration for the place where Christ died, was buried, and rose again: Jerusalem. In 1427, they requested permission from the Pope to build a Jerusalem Chapel in their home city of Bruges, dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre. For this, they wanted to use the floor plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as starting point. The Pope granted permission and a chapel was designed which was later completed by Pieter’s son Anselm. In 1454, Pieter II withdrew into the Carthusian Monastery St. Cross. In 1470, Anselm drew up a will which includes two paintings by Jan van Eyck. Both depict St. Francis receiving the stigmata (now in Turin and Philadelphia) and both have miniature palms which only appear otherwise on ‘The Three Mary’s at the Tomb’. The Jerusalem Chapel still belongs to the descendants of Anselm Adornes and can be viewed daily between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm.
The Road to Van Eyck
The Three Mary’s at the Tomb has been restored in order to star at the exhibition The Road to Van Eyck. This includes, in addition to works by Jan van Eyck, magnificent objects in gold and enamel, leather, wood, alabaster or oil paint on panel which the young Jan van Eyck could have seen and which must have encouraged him to unleash his revolution. A catalogue has been specially published for The Road to Van Eyck exhibition, containing essays and detailed information about all the works on exhibition.
The Three Mary’s at the Tomb surfaced around 1850 in Antwerp. Immediately it was attributed to Jan van Eyck. But at the major exhibition of Flemish primitives that was held in Bruges in 1902, it was presented as the only surviving painting by Hubert van Eyck, Jan’s mysterious elder brother. Since the Second World War, there has been doubt: Jan? Hubert? Or perhaps some other painter?
In the run-up to the major exhibition The Road to Van Eyck in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, The Three Mary’s at the Tomb was examined once more and restored by Annetje Boersma and Eva van Zuien. This video shows the restoration process and the findings of the restorers about the composition of the paint and the working method of the painter. In addition, curator Friso Lammertse sets out on an investigation; he visits three locations that have played an important role in the history of the painting: Vierhouten, Richmond and Bruges. He is confronted with some unexpected surprises.
Also see the ARTtube video Everything is strange about this painting, about the restoration of The Three Mary's at the Tomb.
This video was made on the occasion of the exhibition The Road to Van Eyck, on show in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from October 13, 2012 to February 10, 2013.
direction Els Hoek & Mostafa Heravi
scenario & production: Els Hoek
camera & edit: Mostafa Heravi
camera London: Ruben van den Broeke
sound: Ali Eskandarzadeh
music: Faarjam Saidi
chief editor: Els Hoek.