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A small museum in southwestern France has just gained a Goya thanks to a new authentication that’s left a different French museum with a mere copy. The Musée Bonnat in Bayonne, a town of 45,000, has long attributed the painting “Self-Portrait with Spectacles” (circa 1800) to Francisco Goya, but it wasn’t until a recent ruling by restorers from the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France that it was confirmed as a work by the Spanish master. That’s tough luck for the Musée Goya in Castres, about four hours east of Bayonne, whose version of the same painting has now been demoted to the status of a copy that Goya painted after the Bayonne picture.
Using scientific imaging and analysis of the canvas, pigments, and lead of the Bonnat painting, restorers were able to verify that it is indeed an original Goya, and that it predates the Castres version, a ruling that has set off a war of words between officials at the two museums.
“The analysis allowed us to prove that the Castres painting, which has long passed for an original, is in fact a copy based on the Bayonne painting, which is authentic,” an unnamed curator from the Musée Bonnat told France 3.
“Not at all, it’s a ‘response,’” the Musée Goya’s chief curator, Jean-Louis Augé, told France 3. “The self-portrait in Bayonne is the preparatory painting, there are many preparatory paintings, for the major painting that is in Madrid, ‘Charles IV of Spain and His Family.’” On the far left side of that painting, cast in the shadow of a large canvas, is Goya, rendered in a manner very similar to the Bayonne and Castres paintings.
So when can the Bayonnais get a closer look at their newly authenticated Goya? Good question. The Musée Bonnat — whose charmingly out-of-date website features an introduction to the tune of Los Angeles rap group Pharcyde’s 1993 hit “Passin’ Me By” — has been closed for renovations since April 11, 2011. No reopening date has been set. The small regional museum’s incongruously rich collection, which includes works by Goya, Rubens, Dürer, Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, da Vinci, Degas, El Greco, and others, was assembled by painter and collector Léon Bonnat (1833–1922). A native of Bayonne, he built the museum himself, and its permanent collection consists almost exclusively of works he bought.