- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Earlier this month, Barry Bauman, an art conservator with three decades of experience, was in his suburban Chicago studio restoring a valuable, century-old painting for Valparaiso University’s art museum.

The painting was the work of the acclaimed American impressionist Robert Reid, whose paintings can fetch in the six figures.

“It needed some cleaning and also some structural work,” Bauman told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1BT0fkV ), “so I had to take the painting off the stretcher,” the wood frame that serves as a canvas’s unseen infrastructure.

Bauman peeled away the canvas and was stunned to see another canvas. It was another Robert Reid painting.

“There’s this incredible still life underneath,” Bauman said.

The discovery marked the second time in two years that such a rare, unexplainable thing had occurred in Indiana’s art world and the second time for Bauman.

In 2012, Bauman was cleaning one of the Indiana State Museum’s T.C. Steele paintings when he found one painting on top of another Steele painting - two canvases, one frame. The venerable Hoosier landscape artist being dead since 1926, art experts could only speculate on what had happened.

Today they are scratching their heads again, this time over the hidden Reid.

“It’s odd as hell,” said Marty Radecki, formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s chief conservator and now in private practice in Asheville, North Carolina.

“I’m mystified,” said Albert Albano, a veteran of several museums and now executive director of Cleveland-based ICA-Art Conservation.

“It’s lightning striking twice,” Bauman said.

The odds are long indeed that one conservator would find two hidden canvases. Or even one. When they surface, it’s news. A year ago, conservators at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London uncovered a previously unknown oil sketch by John Constable.

Robert Reid was a well-known, early 20th century painter, and his work is prized. It’s in some of the nation’s top museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The high price for a Reid at auction is $198,000. (Steele’s high is $220,000.)

Whatever transpired to conceal the second Reid transpired a long time ago and, Reid having died in 1929, likely will remain a mystery.

But the upshot of the discovery is obvious enough: Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art had long believed it owned one Robert Reid painting and now learns it owns two.

The painting on top, the one familiar to Brauer-goers, is of a young woman dressed in white who is sitting at an outdoor table. She is having tea and reading. Titled “Tea Time,” the painting is dated 1911. It was donated to the Brauer in 1953 by Percy Sloan, a Chicago art collector and son of a minor 19th century artist named Junius Sloan.

The painting underneath “Tea Time,” undated, is of the interior of a room. There are no people in the room, but against the wall is a chaise-lounge-type chair with some pillows. On a ledge behind it is a bust of a woman.

“Tea Time” is insured for $500,000, said Gregg Hertzlieb, the Brauer’s director. The hidden Reid, which is badly cracked and still being restored by Bauman, has not been appraised.

It’s not uncommon for artists to paint over paintings that displease them. It’s a way to reuse a canvas. Last summer, with the use of infrared imagery, conservators at Washington’s Phillips Collection found underneath Picasso’s “The Blue Room” a portrait, by Picasso, of an unknown man wearing a bow tie. Earlier conservators at the Guggenheim Museum in New York found a portrait underneath another Picasso painting, “Woman Ironing.”

But to stretch a painting over an existing painting, a finished painting, is rare. Why do that?

“My guess is, if they had a painting they weren’t thrilled with, the artists were reusing materials” to save money on supplies, such as the wooden stretchers that are a canvas’s infrastructure, said Jim Ross, an Indianapolis art dealer. “This might have been true especially during the Depression.”

Reid died just months after the Black Tuesday stock market crash and missed the worst of the Depression, but even when the economy was good, he often was strapped for cash. According to the Smithsonian’s website, Reid was “much given to gambling,” and “in due course his expenses exceeded his income.”

But even a down-and-outer likely could have afforded a new canvas, and wouldn’t a cash-strapped artist have been quick to monetize all of his work, even a painting of a largely empty room?

“Maybe it had something to do with transportation, like for cheaper shipping, more convenient shipping,” Hertzlieb said. “Or for storage.”

Regardless of what happened decades ago, the Brauer is today’s winner. It could sell one of its Reids and use the proceeds to broaden its collection.

But the museum probably will keep both its Reids, Hertzlieb said. He said he hopes the unusual story behind them will stir interest in the museum.

___

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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