The painting The Harbour of Mallorca (1914) by Leo Gestel, in the Frans Hals Museum, was restored. This painting had once been given a layer of varnish that was so glossy that it changed the colours of the paint, an effect never intended by the artist. It was thus removed, bringing the work back much closer to its original condition. The restoration and the research which had accompanied it were elucidated in a small exhibition. The restored canvas and other paintings by Gestel were on display, as well as photographs made during the restoration process.
The Harbour of Mallorca is a middle-sized oil painting on canvas (70 x 55.5cm), painted in 1914. The painter Leo Gestel (Woerden 1881 – Hilversum 1941) is regarded as one of the most important among the classic modern artists in The Netherlands. He was influenced by Cubism and other then new currents in French art. The Harbour of Mallorca is a good example of this.
Varnish The Museum has another Mallorca painting by van Gestel (Palma di Mallorca, 1914) which has always remained unvarnished. Compared with this, The Harbour of Mallorca was much darker in colour. It had also become very shiny because of the layer of varnish. As a result of the research interesting information came to light about Gestel’s use of materials and technique. Moreover, it appeared that the painting should not have been varnished.
In his early period, under the influence of the impressionists, Fauvists and Cubists, Gestel used bright colours that he applied to the canvas with free strokes. Moreover, he worked with an absorbent foundation layer which gave his paintings a bright but mat quality. Because a layer of varnish would destroy this effect, on the back of various canvases he wrote ‘NEVER VARNISH’ in black chalk, sometimes adding ‘ABSORBENT CANVAS’. This was, for instance, the case with the famous painting Lady with Large hat in Summer House (1913) in the Frans Hals Museum, with Farmhouse (1916), in a private collection, and with later, more traditional works.
The varnish layer was removed during the restoration. The varnish proved to contain black pigment: at some point the colours were apparently thought to be too vivid. The painting now once again has gotten back much of its original mat condition and bright colour combination.
A small exhibition was devoted to this restoration project, with met various paintings by Gestel and photographs made for and during the project. Gestel Restored is a project of the restoration department of the Frans Hals Museum and restorer-in-training Barbara de Jong.