LONDON.- This is a plea from the gallery to rescue two significant paintings which are in desperate need of conservation. An astonishing story: Saint Cecilia (formerly attributed to Annibale Carracci) and Venus and Adonis (once thought to be by Titian) have recently been uncovered from storage having disappeared from public view when the gallery re-opened after World War II. It transpired that both paintings were once amongst the highlights of the Gallery’s founders’ collection; at Bourgeois and Desenfans’ house in Charlotte Street, Saint Cecilia hung prominently in the Skylight Room while Venus and Adonis was displayed on the staircase. While the re-discovery is big news for Dulwich Picture Gallery, the paintings are in a critical condition and for that reason can not yet resume their rightful place in Soane’s enfilade.
Saint Cecilia, even if not by Carracci, is probably an important seventeenth-century Italian work (perhaps even a small-scale altarpiece), but the layers of dirt and yellowed varnish make it impossible to reach a plausible attribution. Venus and Adonis is one of the many versions of a celebrated Titian prototype and our version has long been considered a later copy of Titian’s original. Scholars, who have recently examined the painting, however, suggest a different possibility. Underneath the dirt, a painting by Titian’s own workshop (and possibly with the master’s intervention) may hide. Details of the painting do not match with any of the other known versions of the picture, suggesting that this may be an independent composition which came out of Titian’s own shop!
Restoration of the paintings and their beautiful frames can help bring us to more solid conclusions and as always, it is you who can help. Cleaning will allow for detailed study and for their attribution, dating and early history to be thoroughly examined. The successful ‘Adopt an Old Master’ and ‘Adopt a Frame’ schemes, which have allowed the gallery to promote an active and crucial conservation campaign, are now calling for generous adopters to help our two ‘hidden’ paintings. As a goal, Dulwich Picture Gallery would hope that restoration of both pictures would be completed by 2011 when we celebrate our bicentenary.