Woman with a Pearl: Scientific analysis

Scientific Examination and Restoration Work

Documents on File

Colour set Radiograph set Colour detail
Infrared detail Infrared derail Colour detail

Scientific Examination and Restoration Work

The support used by Corot is a very fine and tightly woven •canvas• with a thread count of 27 by 32 per square centimetre in a plain canvas weave. The painting has been •lined• in the distant past and is mounted on a hand-made, keyed •stretcher• with crossed strengtheners dove-tailed flush on which can be seen the wax seal: "Vente Corot" ["Corot Sale"].

When Corot asked a young neighbour to sit for him he was probably thinking of Leonardo's Mona Lisa or the Portrait of a Lady of the Court of Milan or the drawing by Raphaël known as Maddalene Doni (Louvre). The X-ray [80RX1182] shows the procedure used by the painter: the model's blouse was originally a little different and may have been embroidered. Next, Corot has added the dark area of her short jacket. The left sleeve has also been modified and was originally along a more diagonal line; the foreshortening of the arm is now more marked.

Some hesitation in the model's hand at bottom left can be seen, since it is more elongated and initially held a different object (perhaps a fan or book), and in fact evidence of scraping of the paint can be seen in the hands (macrophotographs 5847-5848). The ring was added last — the hand was fully painted underneath.

In the X-ray [80RX1182], the back of the head seems to be haloed in a lighter area. The face was previously fleshier but the double chin is now hidden in shadow. The whole of the face was perhaps placed slightly higher (eyes, chin, etc.). Folds and creases in the paint layer can be clearly seen in the brown tones of the hair in the curls framing the face. This is also to be seen in the eye, nose and mouth. They have probably been caused by the use of an oil paint with too much siccative, frequently encountered in the nineteenth century.

In spite of the title, which was added late in circumstances not entirely accounted for [80e1889], radiographic examination [80RX1182] proves that Corot had included the leaf or the pearl decorating the forehead of the model from the very beginning since it corresponds with an area without white lead. The grey ground layer is visible on the four folded edges of the canvas.

The •paint layer• was covered with a soiled film of •yellowing varnish• mixed in with the impasto areas and made more unfortunate by numerous obtrusive repaints. This was cleaned up in 1952. The freeing-up of the paint layer made possible limited retouching (J. G. Goulinat). Since then, in 1992, one or two lacunae at the edges were simply masked (C.Mouterde).

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