An X-ray image of a painting can provide information about its structure, execution process and/or changes in its condition. The genesis of Monet’s “Luncheon” is especially suspenseful because the artist changed his composition several times in the early phase of the painting process. He revised the positions of the figures and many of the objects on the table.
The two illustrations both show the same section of the painting – the section at the left with the lady visitor. The black-and-white image on the left is the X-ray image. In the completed painting, seen here on the right, the woman is leaning against the window and gazing down at the child. Her flesh tones have been created with the addition of lead white pigments. Since these pigments absorb the X-rays, they appear bright in the X-ray image. Two earlier versions of the visitor are discernible: neither the standing figure nor the one seated at the table looks into the room, but rather out of the window. The X-ray moreover reveals that there were originally two baguettes on the table where we now see a single loaf of bread.
The present version shows the child to the right of his mother at the table. In the rejected version, the mother is turned towards the window and holding the little boy on her lap. Monet painted over this first version of his son and turned the mother around to the right to face him in his new position, also adding a servant in the background. Here as well, we can identify changes in the objects on the table: the two eggs on the mother’s plate have been shifted somewhat towards the right, and the large plate at the centre is larger in the final version than it was in the earlier one.
Gain further insights into the technological examination and conservation of selected works.
Edgar Degas: “The Orchestra Musicians” (1872)
Gustave Courbet: “The Wave” (1869)
Camille Corot: “Summer Landscape” (1855)
Claude Monet: “Houses on the bank of the river Zaan” (1871)
Félix Ziem: “Dutch River Landscape with Windmills” (1850–1853)
Auguste Renoir: “After the Luncheon” (1879)