Has the Painting Been Restored and/or Repainted? Is This a Copy?
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Has the Painting Been Restored and/or Repainted? Is This a Copy? 
Madame Ramon Subercaseaux
    Image plates starting upper left 
    • Color plate from the Hardcover Retrospective Catalogue believed (by me) to have been taken in the 1960's or earlier (differences in certain passages IDed by Wonsug Jung
    • Black and white from Plate 16, "Sargent: Paintings- Drawings-Watercolours" by Richard  Ormond; 1970 -- it might be a b&w image of the 1960's photo
    • New color plate from the softcover Retrospective Catalogue and an image of the painting shown at the show -- photo assumed to be 1998
    • Lower Level is the Hard Cover (1960's?) and Soft Cover (1998?) plates together   

From: Wonsug Jung 

Hi, Natasha. 

My name is Wonsug Jung. In my vacation I visited Boston to see the Sargent exhibition. I really enjoyed it. Back in Korea, I found your homepage in my casual web surfing and wow, you did a great job. I wish I coud have found your homepage before I went to Boston. 

I have something to tell you regarding Madame Ramon Subercaseaux. At first I found it a little unSargentish. Maybe that impression is due to the bright interior which is extremely rare in his portraits, and yes, as the catalogue says it reminds me of James Tissot. 

In most Sargent books, the plate features it in very damaged condition. Even the hardcover Sargent exhibition catalogue has this 'old' plate, and I believe the softcover Sargent exhibition catalogue which is available at the museum shop only is the only book that has a plate of the restored painting seen at the exhibition. The problem is that the restorer obviously repainted it. Just compare the flowers in the right side or the vase on the piano. You can find subtler chages in her dress too, and I suspect even the autograph was reinscribed. 

What do you think about it? 


Its good to hear from you and thank you for your kind comments.  

You present a wonderful and interesting question, but I'm not sure I'm the person to best answer it. I've asked Bert for his thoughts on this and if anyone else has any thoughts please, let's hear from you .  

-- Nat  

From Bert 

Hi Natasha.  

An interesting letter indeed. I've only seen Madame Ramon Subercaseaux in Boston and in the softcover catalogue.  It's most curious that according to Wonsug Jung, the plate in the hardcover catalogue differs from that found in the softcover version. Why would the publisher substitute plates? Isn't that expensive? Perhaps it is the photo source of the image in the hardcover that is damaged and not the actual painting. Maybe it's poorly printed - as I said the hardcover has been faulted for it's poor imaging.  

I have no awareness of any restorer repainting the work as I know so little about the painting. . .  I understood full well Wonsug's comments about Madame Ramon Subercaseaux seeming "unSargentish". If I recall this correctly,  it was sited on the wall adjacent to "Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron" and if one had not known it was a solo retrospective,  one could easily have attributed the two works to different artists. It certainly lacks the emotional  
subterfuge found in Sargent's finer portraits. It is indeed a "traditional" work.  


From Bert 

Although I admit that the black-&-white image is less then revealing,  is this a bit more helpful?  

[Editor's note: Bert submits the softcover Retrospective Catalogue image (the far right image) and Plate 16 from "Sargent: Paintings- Drawings-Watercolours" by Richard  Ormond (1970) (the black and white image)]
From: Wonsug Jung 

I found a very interesting point while comparing the BW scan that Bert has with my color image. The BW scan is different with mine in the ruffles of her blouse but is same with restored painting [the retrospective soft cover image far right].  

It's so confusing. Was the ruffles of her blouse repainted after the BW photo was taken and then removed during the restoration? Then how can the difference in the flowers can be explained? Were there several repaintings and the flowers were repainted before the BW photo was taken, so what we see now is what Sargent originally painted and BW and old plate is the repainting?  

[Editor's Note -- Wonsug sent a copy of the older color photo plate from the hard cover Retrospective book.  I have combined all the image plates together as they appear above.]
From: Natasha  

Clearly, I can see what Wonsug is talking about, and there are clearly differences between the images at the points he has circled. Is this a function of a retouching of the painting or is this a function of the problems of photographic images being inadequate in truthfully capturing a painting that you might see in person?  

I don't really know but here are some thoughts. I'm not a professional photographer, but what might be happening is that the green filter in the original color plate might be masking some of the green leafs of the flowers. In other words because of a green filter, we might not be seeing the "light" green tones of the leafs and maybe a loss of white from the flowers as well.  

I feel more certain that the inability to pick up subtle contrast is probably what's happening to the lack of ruffles in her blouse in the black and white image. So I don't think it's been touched up twice.  

If you look at the "true green" objects in the Soft Cover Retrospective book, they are only the leafs of the flowers. The carpet is blue. Now in the older color plate, the carpet is green because of the filter and all of the "true green" seems to be greatly diminished.  

But Wait!! Before you think I am dismissing the notion that the painting has been touched up, look at this. In the flowers to the right, there are four groups of white flowers, The large center flower is much larger in the older color plate photo. If my theory were consistent (the loss of white and green due to filter) this flower should be smaller -- but it's not!! Also, if you look at the green leafs in the original color plate, they appear to be in the background with the white painted over it. In the newer color plate the green looks to me to be painted on top. And the red color flowers do not have the dynamic texture that the older color plate shows.  

I think Wonsug is on to something here. So what is my final thoughts on this? I think Wonsung is right, this painting has been restored and repainted in parts -- I sure have to hand it to him for catching it.  


From: David Marshall  mar  sh   all@cs.umass.edu

I too was perplexed by the quality of the image in the hardcover catalog of the show. I had a vivid recollection of the actual painting which I saw last September.  The hardcover catalog which I borrowed from the library looks very different and caused me to launch a web search.  I fell into the discussion on your site addressing this issue and would like to offer an alternate explanation:  

The painting was probably cleaned.  Removal of grime and varnishes (which look yellow ochre when aged) may be what gave the older image its golden tinge resulting in the green rug rather than the blues one.  

As for the differences in certain passages.  Cleaning may have altered shapes and revealed detail that was hidden under grime and perhaps some earlier restorative work. Considering the age of the work and that it by Sargent (a bravura painter), it would not make sense for restoration to include drastic repainting including the addition of detail that is otherwise not found in the painting.  

It would be interesting to get the real story.  

From: Natasha 

That’s an interesting theory, David, but it appears to me that the older plates show more detail than the newer one, which you wouldn’t think would be the case if dirt and grime were covering it. And you’re quite right, it makes no sense at all to “repaint” a portion of the picture, unless of course, it had been severally damaged – then I’m not sure it makes sense then either. That’s what makes this all so very interesting.  

I like your idea about the yellowing of the varnish which changes the blue to green. The idea of cleaning somehow altering or revealing differences in the flowers makes me wonder about this thing all the more.  

Date:  10/03/00 
From: Kathie  Roskom" <kjrg  e  n@hotmail.com>  

 . . . [I managed to see the retrospecive in London]. While I was at the show I was making notes in the book/catalogue as I viewed each original (helps me jog my memory when I'm back home) . . .  

[I too saw differences] . . .  

I talked with a curator at the Tate at the time and she said the differences appeared when they had the worked cleaned before the show (but that the transparency used for the catalogue was done before the cleaning). . .  

From: Natasha 

Kathie's letter seems to confirm David Marshall's assumptions of 1/3/00. 

From: Genway Gao   <ge nw  ay@genway.com> 

[Editor's Note -- the letter has been edited for readability only]
Hello Natasha, 

Here is the my story. 

On march 1999, I went to Sargent's exhibition at National Gallery of Art [in Washington D.C.].  I had the catalogue (Princeton University Press) three months before the show, so I did a through study on all the figures, made notes on areas of the paintings I needed to check when I encountered closely. 

Three days I went back and forth to the Gallery and was sitting on the ground in front of many of Sargent's works.  Probably because of my persistence, on the last day I was there, I was able to examine paintings as close as inches without getting a warning. 

Of course I noticed the the differences on "Madame Ramon Subercaseaux" on the first day, in fact, I filed a report to the curator, he never respond, called another curator at Cochran Gallery, and what he told me was rumor that a few paintings were replaced by copies due to the last minute some owners were reluctant to transport the originals over to the National Gallery.  I told him I knew exactly which paintings were copied and hung on the halls, and which were not copies but questionable origin. 

And as you may guess already, I found another questionable painting. 

Next to "Madame Ramon Subercaseaux" was "Mrs Charles Russell",  which prior to the show I was very interested by the fact Ms Carol Troyen -- the author of the catalogue book (her credit) stated "Despite the reserve evinced by her portrait,..." on page 154.  In contrast to her statement, the painting on the wall was very vivid and typical of  Sargent's  style.  A thorough exam [by me?] has revealed many differences between these two versions.  In other words, I believed the [painting at the show] was the final version of the painting, and the one in the catalogue was preliminary version or study, both by Sargent. 

I came back to California and called Carol Troyen right away, she was surprised and a little unsure about my discovery, 'cause she did not think there was another painting of the same subject, and since the paintings were going to be in Boston (where she works) in about three months,  she suggested that I contact her three months later. 

I called Ms Carol Troyen again at July, 1999.  Surprisingly, at first she denied the conversations had taken place between us. Later I convinced her all the details of the conversation, she just said "there isn't another painting", and refused to discuss it any further, nor did she suggest were I might  search elsewhere. 

Now my last hope was gone. I wish one authority would fight for truth [but no one has], so I have to collect more information.  A year later I saw the public TV channel had a program on Sargent, so I waited and watched, and there it was, the detail video on "Mrs Charles Russell". 

I got the video now, and It proves I was right. [see image] 

So let me tell you what I think. 

There are two version of  "Madame Ramon Subercaseaux", one is the painting printed in color of all Sargent's books including the catalogue of the exhibition.  another was printed in Ormond's 1970 book.  And the so called repainted or retouched painting is actually a copy of the Ormond's version [the photo in Ormond's book]. It was this painting -- the copy -- that was on the National Gallery's wall, and also explains why all those details don't match with the first version. 

There are two versions of "Mrs Charles Russell" as well, possibly it was sold by the same dealer, but for protection of the price or in trying to keep one collector from knowing about the other painting's existence, only one is shown and is always label "Private Collector".  This is my guess.  But two paintings exist alright. 

I have much more detail comparison done on both subjects, if interested write me back. 

Visit my website some time, www.genway.com 

Thank you. 

Genway Gao 

Date: 17 October, 2001 
From Natasha 

I'm not the type of person that sees conspiracies at every corner. For example, I believe that  John F Kennedy was killed by a single shooter; that the ATF didn't set fire to Waco, a religious nut did;  and that the FBI isn't covering up information about UFOs and abductions. In fact, for the most part, I'm pretty much a plain-Jane type of person that just wants to go about their daily life and enjoy and smell the daisies. All questions (outside of those of faith in God) should be put to the test of scientific inquiry. The whole idea about the differences between the pictures of Madame Ramon Subercaseaux, for me anyway, was always just a kind of intellectual gymnastics, a fun puzzle, an interesting curiosity, a riddle to be teased with. . .  

After reading Genway's letter, for the very first time, I got a little troubled. Here is yet another viewer of the Retrospective show that saw differences; yet another that had tried to investigate the meaning of it with no luck -- differences enough to really make them wonder and search: Wonsug Jung, David Marshall, Kathie Roskom, and Genway Gao, all seem to me to be nothing more than astute admirers of Sargent. Genway being the most aggressive of the bunch, to be sure, at searching for the truth but he has raised the bar and begged the question: why hasn't any authority fought for the truth? And what IS the truth?  

It's a simple enough question and simply enough answered by the people in the know. So instead of speculating, I did the simple enough thing, and I wrote to one of the highest authorities on the matter -- someone that could simply enough put this to rest . . .  And this is my letter: 

Dear [deleted for privacy], 

I know you're really busy and probably don't want to be bothered by this, but there is a persistent and nagging question about the portrait of Madame Ramon Subercaseaux that just won't go away. You may or may not know about a webpage I did regarding some of the public's questioning of whether or not the painting at the exhibit of the Retrospective of London, DC and Boston was, in fact, the original, a copy, or a repainting, in part, of Sargent's original. 


I have received yet another letter from a person that insists on this, which only raises more questions in my own mind. With your association and your position, it seems to me, that you could easily put these questions to rest very quickly and permanently. I am only bothering you about this, since (it seems to me) it is very unhealthy to let such speculation persist in the public which fuels even more speculation about other paintings and the integrity of everyone involved. I personally can understand a situation in which there might have been a case were some owner refused to release the original but sent a copy in its place. The people running the show were faced with the argument that it was better to show the copy to the public of such a significant piece than to leave it out and therefore it was displayed. 

My inquiry is only about the Truth and I feel no ill will towards anyone in connection to the exhibits. In other words, I'm not on a witch hunt here, I'm just trying to get at the Truth of what happened.. If anything, my sentiments are in favor of the people that labored to mount such an important show and I'm willing to work at presenting the Truth in its best and appropriate light  -- what ever that is with sensitivity to personalities if need be. 

I don't want to publish this letter to you at my website. But it is my intent to try to get to the bottom of this. If you wish to respond -- which I sincerely hope you will, I might suggest one of the following: 

A) you could be an "unidentified source close to the exhibit" in which case your name is kept out and I will paraphrase what you tell me and -- quite honestly since I don't think you will steer me wrong on this --  what you say will pretty much close the subject -- at least for me and hopefully for others. If your answer is that it was in fact the original (which seems so difficult to accept) might you help me answer why the differences between the images. 

B) I can print your answer verbatim and unedited and source it fully and you can have as much space to say what ever you want.. 

C) you can tell me, if you really don't know, that you are forwarding the question to someone else and will get back with me shortly. 

D) some other response of your suggestion 

E) Not respond at all. In which case I will post the letter and state that you chose not to respond. Sorry, I don't mean to put you on the spot, but if anyone would know, it seems to me (and to a lot of other people, I might add) that you would know, and this is the least appealing option for me. 

I just think the whole matter looks very bad if the question persists without an answer from some "authority" someplace; and without such an answer only fuels cynicism about a public trust in a community of "experts" which certainly you belong. I hope you choose to answer and if you do -- tell me if it's "on" the record, "off" the record, or anonymous. 

I'm trying to be sensitive to a possible delicate position. No one knows I'm writing to you about this, I am: 

Respectfully yours 

Natasha Wallace

Their response? 

No comment. 

I've since felt better about disclosing the name of the  person and if I had it to write over, I probably compose it a little differently. Suffice it to say, they know. The letter simply speaks for itself and is now, essentially, an open letter to all those in the know.  
Date: 22 Oct 2001 
From: Genway Gao   <ge  n  ay@genway.com> 

 . . .Now about the problem with all the experts not admitting.  I am so convinced about two versions of "Madame Ramon Subercaseaux" and two version of "Mrs Charles Russell". Even if Sargent come out of the grave and told me "Genway, you are wrong." I would ask him "Are you sure?"  So this is not really what I want to find out, I just wonder when the truth, once it's reveal, how these experts' will respond? How are they going cover themselves? With what reasons? How will they face history? Why are they all short-sighted? 

Many other sources we can try, like institutions about art history, like Washington D.C. its public medias, universities and other museums. 

I just wondering and make sure you don't get burn by getting involved too much in it. 

Good luck and no matter what, you are good-hearted person for sure. 

Respectful yours, 


Date 5 Dec 2001 
From: Natasha 

Thanks Genway.   

I don't think I'll get burned.  There is no animosity on my part and I'm sure not on yours either. And I'm only really interested in the truth about the paintings. As far as the "experts" go, there might be a million reasons why they would be scared to go out on a limb in public. We really don't know the circumstances behind all of this; and keep in mind it's through many of these "experts" that we know so much about Sargent and his art. In fact, in hindsight, I don't blame them for being coy. You might consider the fact that they might even be breathing a huge sigh of relief that it's coming to light here and not through them. To some, it's their livelihood and there are more important fish to fry. As for me, well . . . what livelihood? You mean these internet bills I have to pay, and all this time I have to spend? I suppose I hate to think I might burn a bridge (I really hope I haven't) but then that's not what this is really all about. The public can judge for themselves about my intent, and I feel very comfortable leaving it there. 

The question you need to ask yourself is did I pose false options in my letter -- you know "when did you stop beating your wife?" type questions. I don't think I did.  A person can certainly dig more, but consider for a moment what's not said might be just as revealing as what is said -- and maybe that's the only way they can say it. 

Maybe, just maybe, we've said it for all of them on their behalf.  



See also