Start of Examination and Restoration Paul Potter’s The Bull in Mauritshuis, The Hague

Monday, May 13, 2024
Start of Examination and Restoration Paul Potter’s The Bull in Mauritshuis, The Hague

Museum visitors will be able to follow the examination and restoration of Potter’s The Bull live.

This huge painting (the largest in the Mauritshuis collection!) was last restored 50 years ago. Since then, there have been significant advances in conservation, restoration and research techniques. Over the course of eighteen months, this project aims to learn more about Paulus Potter’s painting techniques and working methods.

This restoration treatment will help to preserve The Bull for future generations. The examination and restoration are being funded by Dutch family-run company Lely, a bequest by Mrs. A.D. Bonebakker-van Enter, an anonymous donor, the Debman Foundation and Stichting Retourschip.

The painting will be taken off the wall and moved to another room, which will be set up as a studio for the examination and restoration. Almost daily, the public will be able to watch through a glass wall as the conservators work with scientific equipment. The technical examination of the painting will take place between 29 March and the end of May, and the extensive restoration treatment will commence in early June. It will probably take until autumn 2025 to complete.

The examination and restoration will hopefully provide answers to several outstanding questions. Potter started with a smaller painting – probably just depicting the bull – but later extended the canvas on three sides to add the rest of the composition. How and why did he do this? The original blue sky has become discoloured and damaged over the centuries, and is therefore in worse condition than the rest of the painting. During previous treatments, the damage was covered by overpainting it. The conservators now hope to restore both the sky and the entire painting to bring it closer to what Potter intended back in 1647, when he completed The Bull.

The initial findings of the study indicate that Potter made many changes while painting The Bull. Besides enlarging the canvas, a number of changes - so-called 'pentimenti' - have also been found in the composition. Infrared techniques allow conservators and researchers to see through the layers of paint. For example, it has been discovered that the bull's hind legs have been moved a bit, that Potter first painted a fence under the bull's head, and that the landscape in the background looked different at an earlier stage. The painting has also undergone changes due to earlier restorations. The research shows, for example, that farmer Teun's chest hair was considerably highlighted during the last restoration, in the 1970s.

We know of a total of five large-format paintings by Paulus Potter. During prior research, it has come to light that a sixth exists. The National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin) owns a painting that can be linked to The Bull. Mauritshuis conservator Jolijn Schilder discovered that Potter once made a large painting (about 2.10 m x 1.70 m) depicting The Rape of Europa, of which the oval painting the Head of a White Bull, now in Dublin, appears to be a fragment. A significant part of the painting has been lost; only this fragment remains. The two bulls are different in colour, but the way the heads are depicted shows strong similarities. As a result, the 'Irish' bull will be invaluable for research into the 'Dutch' bull. This project is a collaboration between the National Gallery of Ireland and the Mauritshuis. Head of a White Bull will be on display at the Mauritshuis between 29 March and early June '24.

 

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