The New York Times
February 20, 2015
By Randy Kennedy
PHILADELPHIA — In 1921, the wily art collector Albert C. Barnes wrote to Paris to his friend and fellow collector Leo Stein, who was in dire need of money and had deputized Barnes to sell some of his holdings in the United States. They included five watercolor landscapes by Paul Cézanne, but Barnes reported that he had failed to find “anybody who seems to think they are sufficiently important to want to own them.”
It was pure mercantile flimflam. Barnes turned around and bought the watercolors for himself, at $100 each, installing them permanently in his personal museum near here. Now it turns out that Barnes got a better deal than even he had thought: A conservation treatment of the watercolors has revealed two previously unknown Cézanne works — a graphite drawing and a watercolor with graphite — on the verso (the reverse side) of two of the watercolors.
Hidden beneath brown paper backing, the newly discovered pieces are unfinished, but they have sent tremors through the world of Cézanne scholarship, where additions to his body of work are exceedingly rare and where even the resurfacing of long-unseen pieces can be huge news. A watercolor study for Cézanne’s coveted The Card Players paintings, discovered in Dallas in 2012 after a six-decade absence from public view, brought $19 million at auction that year, an indication of the work’s importance but also of Cézanne’s place among the most sought-after artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Many people come to me and say, ‘I have found a Cézanne!,’ and I’ve never, never, never found one that was actually by Cézanne,” said Denis Coutagne, president of the Paul Cézanne Society in Provence, who has been conducting research for the Barnes for several months to determine where Cézanne was standing in the landscape of Aix-en-Provence when he drew one of the newly discovered works.
“It was a very fortunate day in Philadelphia when they found these,” Mr. Coutagne said in a telephone interview Friday from Aix-en-Provence, where Cézanne (1839-1906) was born and spent most of his painting career.
There is nothing in Barnes’s correspondence to indicate that he was aware of the existence of the two works. The Barnes, which relocated in 2012 from its original home in Merion, a Philadelphia suburb, to a new building in Philadelphia and has begun a yearslong conservation program for many of its works, knew that the acidic backing of the five Cézanne watercolors needed to be removed to prevent damage. And in January 2014, when Gwenanne Edwards, a paper expert at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, was beginning that long removal process, millimeter by millimeter, with a tool called a microspatula, she suddenly came to an area where she found a patch of blue-green color and then graphite lines.
Ms. Edwards, looking at the uncovered works again last week on a table at the Barnes Foundation’s conservation lab, added, “It was quite thrilling.”