Yves Tanguy “Fraud in the garden” (1930). The painting had been restored to hide damage to the canvas from an attack on a Paris cinema in 1930 (courtesy Becca Pollak)

A painting by French surrealist Yves Tanguy that had been assumed lost forever in a fascist attack on a Paris cinema in 1930 has re-emerged fully restored.

On the night of December 30, 1930, members of the far-right groups the League of Patriots and the Anti-Semitic League of France raided Studio 28, an arthouse theater in Paris’s artists’ district of Montmartre. They savagely attacked Tanguy’s 1930 masterpiece “Fraud in the Garden” in the cinema’s lobby, along with other works by Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and Joan Miró.

The extremist groups were outraged at the screening of Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or (1930), an avant-garde comedy satirizing the hypocrisy of the sexual mores of the bourgeois society and the Catholic Church. Co-written with Dalí, Buñuel’s surrealist film was rife with blasphemous and erotic imagery, including a sequence based on the Marquis de Sade’s novel 120 Days of Sodom featuring Jesus as a bloodthirsty sadist.

The assailants shouted “We’ll show you that there are still Christians in France!” and “Death to Jews!” Days later, the film was banned due to pressure from right-wing newspapers in France, the Guardian reported.

Tanguy’s “Fraud in the Garden”, left, along with other works damaged during the attack. (courtesy Charles Stuckey)

For decades, Dalí’s “Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion” (1930), which now hangs at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, was believed to be the only artwork to survive the attack. That changed when Tanguy’s painting resurfaced in recent years, perplexing experts who first suspected it to be a copy of the destroyed work, according to Jennifer Mass, a professor of Cultural Heritage Science at the Bard Graduate Center.

“It looked like it was in perfect condition,” Mass, who authenticated the painting, told Hyperallergic in an interview.

Mass, who also helms the private consultancy Scientific Analysis of Fine Art, examined the painting at the request of art historian Charles Stuckey, who was working on a Tanguy catalogue raisonné with researcher Stephen Mack.

According to Mass, an anonymous French collector acquired the Tanguy at auction in 1985 on the odd chance that it might be the original painting from Studio 28. But its pristine condition continued to raise suspicions that it was the work of a forger.

An initial ultraviolet examination that Mass conducted with her colleague Becca Pollak showed signs of restoration, including a new background that had been painted around some of the painting’s original figures. Later, X-ray imaging revealed the hidden wounds of the canvas, which was slashed violently during the 1930 attack.

X-ray imaging showed a long scar in the bottom half of Tanguy’s 1930 “Fraud in the Garden” (courtesy Becca Pollak and Satoko Tanimoto)

“We were able to show the original damage that had been done to the work in 1930, and how a restorer painted over this damage in the background in order to disguise the true condition of the work,” said Mass.

The scientist explained that a large tear at the bottom half of the painting had been stitched, painted over, and supported with a second layer of canvas, eventually making the damage to the painting “almost invisible” to the naked eye.

But Mass suggests the restoration work that had been done on the painting might have been too successful.

“We don’t want paintings that went through this kind of experience to look pristine,” she explained. “We want them to have some kind of evidence of their biography. This is particularly important in the case of a painting that endured an iconoclastic attack.”

Mass added that the late comeback of Tanguy’s painting holds a valuable historical lesson for us today in the face of the alarming rise of neo-fascist and antisemitic groups across the United States and Europe.

“There are fewer people alive today who remember the devastation that these philosophies wrought in early twentieth-century Europe, and far too many young people who are turning to hatred for a sense of belonging,” she said. “The success of L’Age d’Or in its provocation of the far-right reveals the power of the artwork as an agent of protest, and the re-emergence of Tanguy’s ‘Fraud in the Garden’ speaks to our enduring need for artists who use their work to expose the rise of society’s most malevolent political forces.” 

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...