Two Rare Cézanne Sketches Discovered On the Backs of Watercolors at the Barnes Foundation

Albert Barnes acquired the Cézannes from Leo Stein in 1921, unaware of the "bargain."

Paul Cézanne, Houses in Landscape with the Pilon du Roi. The drawing was found on the back of a watercolor, Trees. Photo © 2015 the Barnes Foundation.
Paul Cézanne, Houses in Landscape with the Pilon du Roi. The drawing was found on the back of a watercolor, Trees. Photo © 2015 the Barnes Foundation.

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has discovered two previously unknown sketches by Paul Cézanne that even its founder, the collector Albert C. Barnes, might have never been aware of, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The two unfinished sketches were found on the backs of two important watercolors that hang in the galleries of the foundation, best known for its remarkable Post-Impressionist and early Modern art collection. The sensational breakthrough came after the team took down Chaîne de l’Étoile Mountains (1885–86) and Trees (ca. 1900) to send them to conservationists.

“We’ve had [the watercolors] out of the frame before,” Barbara Buckley, the foundation’s senior director of conservation and chief painting conservator, told the Inquirer. “But the backs were covered with brown paper. That’s one of the reasons they were sent [for conservation]. Brown paper is very acidic, and they needed acid-free paper.”

Thus, in January 2014, the watercolors were sent, along with 20 further works, to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. About a month later, Buckley received a tantalizing email from the center’s director of conservation, which read: “You might be interested to know we found something.”

And what they had found, once the brown paper layer was carefully removed from Chaîne de l’Étoile Mountains, was that Cézanne had started the sketch of a group trees, carefully delineated with pencil and highlighted with watercolor. Meanwhile, on the back of Trees, conservators discovered a detailed pencil drawing depicting houses and a range of mountains.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time that officials at Barnes have found drawings on the back of Cézanne’s works. Previously, the quick sketch of a bowler hat had been found on the back of the drawing The Smoker (1890-91)—but nothing as significant as these recent finds. According to Barnes, only 15 unknown drawings by Cézanne have emerged in the last 30 years.

Buckley and Martha Lucy, a former curator at the foundation, believe that Albert Barnes was completely unaware he had acquired four Cézannes for the price of two when he bought the watercolors from Leo Stein in Paris around 1921. There are no mentions of the sketches on the backs of the watercolors in any of their correspondence at the time of the purchase, nor in any other documents held in the foundation’s archive.

They were not always a secret feature, however, since both watercolors have markings from a Paris dealer, suggesting that he concealed the sketched backs with the brown paper before selling them to Stein.

The pieces will be displayed in double-sided frames at the Barnes Foundation for eight weeks starting April 10.

“It is with great excitement that we share this discovery with our students and visitors,” Buckley said in a statement. “These sketches offer a window into Cézanne’s artistic process, which is truly invaluable.”

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