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A botched restoration of a painting in Spain draws outrage
A private art collector in Valencia, Spain, paid for the painted copy of “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial” by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo to be cleaned by a furniture restorer, according to the Spanish news outlet Europa Press.

by Johnny Diaz

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Art restoration experts in Spain called Tuesday for tighter regulation of their work and condemned reports of a botched restoration of a copy of a Baroque-era painting of the Virgin Mary.

A private art collector in Valencia, Spain, paid for the painted copy of “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial” by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo to be cleaned by a furniture restorer, according to the Spanish news outlet Europa Press.

The news agency said that the collector was surprised when he saw that the face in the painting “was completely disfigured.” The collector, it said, has asked another specialist to fix the painting.

In a statement Tuesday, the Association of Conservators and Restorers in Spain, which is known as ACRE, said it did not have information about the restorer or the collector who bought the painted copy of “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial.” The association said it did not know when the copy was painted.

“If the facts are confirmed, we would have to regret the loss, yet again, of a piece of culture and, in these circumstances, request that this situation not become a social and media source of fun as has happened before,” the association said. “What’s more, we would be alarmed by the fact that part of our heritage is disappearing by these disastrous actions.”

The association said that restorers and conservators receive official training in Spain and that “the quality of conservation-restoration work by Spanish professionals is highly considered at the working and institutional level in Europe.”

However, the association said, there is “no regulation for who is qualified” to do restoration work on paintings in Spain. “And this lack of regulation,” it said, “translates into an absence of protection of our heritage.” Those who are held accountable for botched restorations face “simple administrative penalties” in most cases, it said.

Born on New Year’s Eve in 1617, Murillo was a leading Spanish painter in Seville, Spain, who was known for his religious images. He also “saw self-portraiture as a means to boast of his technical acuity,” according to a New York Times review of a 2017 exhibition of his self portraits at the Frick Collection.

The original “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial” is at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The museum did not respond to an inquiry on Tuesday.

There have been other recent examples of botched restorations of artwork in Spain. Among the best-known cases is a century-old “ecce homo” fresco of Jesus crowned with thorns that was altered in a Roman Catholic church in Borja, Spain, in 2012. Cecilia Giménez, a widow then in her 80s, said on Spanish national television at the time that she had tried to restore the fresco because it was her favorite representation of Jesus.

In 2018, a restoration of a 16th-century wooden figure of St. George at St. Michael’s Church in Estella, in northern Spain, left it looking more like a cartoon than a work of art. Also in 2018, a shopkeeper drew headlines after he repainted 15th-century statues of St. Anne, the Virgin Mary and Jesus with bright colors.

Holly Witchey, the director of education and outreach at ICA-Art Conservation, a nonprofit conservation laboratory in Cleveland, said on Tuesday that she had heard about these cases in Spain, including the most recent one involving the copy of “The Immaculate Conception of El Escorial.”

“When these things start coming across the wires, it’s always so distressing to conservators,” she said. “It is sad. You like to see things done right, and this was not done right.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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