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Restoration of Van Eyck masterpiece
The six-hundred-year-old painting by Jan van Eyck(?), ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’ was high on the museum’s priority list of works to be restored. This extremely labour-intensive process is now finished. The restored work will be displayed for four months from 13 October as part of the museum’s major autumn exhibition ‘The Road to Van Eyck’.
Following an extensive preparatory research phase, the restoration of ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’, attributed to the Van Eyck brothers, began in March. The painting, the only Van Eyck in the Netherlands, is in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The restoration was being carried out by Atelier Boersma. In the past months the varnish and previous areas of retouching have been carefully removed. This exacting and painstaking process has been carried out under microscope. It has revealed once more the highly refined painting technique of this masterpiece. This was followed by retouching where necessary. The conservation process has also fixed the paint layer to the base, overcoming the danger of paint loss. You will be able to admire the results of the restoration in the exhibition ‘The Road to Van Eyck’ this autumn. The restoration has been made possible by Nedspice.
‘The Road to Van Eyck’ will provide an insight into painting between 1390 and 1430 in the Duchy of Burgundy, now incorporating the Netherlands, Belgium, northern France and parts of Germany. Stylistically this period is referred to as the International Gothic, because of the remarkable stylistic uniformity of art works from large parts of Europe. The art of this period formed the starting point for the next generation, including Jan van Eyck. Although his work is often considered revolutionary, it was in many respects inspired by his predecessors.
The core of the exhibition will comprise panel paintings, complemented by a small but high-quality selection of sculptures, metalwork, illuminated manuscripts and drawings. The highlight of the exhibition will be a small group of paintings by Van Eyck and artists from his circle, including the restored ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’. This is the first and – due to the fragility of the works – probably the last time that an exhibition on this subject will be held.
On 8 May 1940 an aeroplane arrived at Schiphol Airport from London with an extremely valuable cargo. Following long negotiations, D.G. van Beuningen had acquired Van Eyck’s ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’ for a record sum from the collection of Francis Cook. It was Van Beuningen’s most costly purchase and the crowning glory of his collection. On the very same day, two days before the bombing of Rotterdam, the painting was brought to the collector’s home in the centre of the city. The painting had been considered a key work in the oeuvre of the Van Eyck Brothers since it had been exhibited at an exhibition of early Flemish paintings in Bruges in 1902. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired the panel in 1958.
In Bruges the painting was presented as a work by Hubert van Eyck, the mysterious brother of
Jan. Hubert is known only from the inscription on ‘The Lamb of God’, the large altarpiece in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent. The inscription states that the work was begun by Hubert, and completed in 1432 by his brother Jan. Art historians have argued endlessly about the contribution made by Hubert, who died in 1426. Following the most recent research from 1987 it was concluded that the painting in Rotterdam was probably from the Van Eyck studio, with no certainty as to which of the brothers made the work. Dendrochronological research (dating based on the annual rings of the wooden panel) shows that the painting was made after 1419.
The restoration and the history of ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’ will be documented in a film that will be screened as part of the autumn exhibition. A demo of the documentary is already available on the museum’s video channel: arttube.boijmans.nl
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen would like to thank the following foundations, companies and private individuals, whose enthusiastic and generous support has made ‘The Road to Van Eyck’ exhibition possible: the Turing Foundation, Robeco, BankGiro Loterij, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, SNS REAAL Fonds, VSBfonds, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (thanks, in part, to the Breeman Talle Fonds), Aon Artscope, Unilever, Nedspice, Ploum Lodder Princen, Shell, Blockbusterfonds and Thalys. A campaign has been launched on the initiative of private individuals to support this exhibition, to which you are also welcome to contribute. For further information about the ‘Van Eyck Circle’, please visit www.boijmans.nl/dekring.
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