fullscreen

MYSTERY OF THE LOST MONET

WATER LILIES
(1914-1926)

Destroyed in a fire at the MoMA in 1958

THE “WATER LILIES“ – CLAUDE MONET’S LAST WORKS

At the start of the 20th century the French painter and Impressionist master Claude Monet fell into a deep depression due to his progressive loss of sight caused by cataractsand the death of his second wife, Alice, the love of his life and source of strength throughout his difficulties. In a letter to his step-daughters he wrote: “The painter in me is dead”.

It took the intervention of his close friend Georges Clemenceau to convince him to return to painting. On the day of the 1914 French elections, Clemenceau, candidate for election, left Paris to meet with Monet at Giverny. By the end of their meeting, Clemenceau had been elected Prime Minister, while Monet was on his way to creating the substantial “Water Lilies“ series.

The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny
The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny
The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny

The series displays the artist’s fervid interest in the representation of water and its interaction with light and color. Monet painted it entirely within the garden of his home in Giverny. The garden was his own personal creation, which he enriched with flowers, exotic plants and a reflective pond created from tributary of the Seine.

Monet carried on painting even when, from his garden, he could hear the shots from the First World War battlegrounds, where his son Michel was also enlisted to fight. In a letter to his step-daughter he wrote: “As far as I am concerned I’ll remain in Giverny, despite everything, if those barbarians want to kill me, I’ll die among my canvases”.

The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny
The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny
The artificial pond Monet had created in his garden in Giverny
Cécile Girardeau, Curator at The Orangerie Museum, Paris
The 1958 fire in the MoMA
One of the halls at the MoMA after the fire
Evaluation of the damage the fire caused on the “Water Lilies

A MASTERPIECE DESTROYED BY A MOMENT’S DISTRACTION

15th April 1958. On the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 53rd street, laborers are working to replace the air conditioning system in one of the museum’s galleries that, has been undergoing months of renovations for modernization.

For security reasons most of the works exhibited in the gallery undergoing work are removed except for the largest ones, among which are Monet’s “Water Lilies“.Although acquired only a few years previously, in that short time it had already become an enormous source of inspiration for the leading names in American Abstract Expressionism.

During a lunch break, one of the workers lights up a cigarette and allows the hot ash to fall on the sawdust. A fire takes hold. The blaze destroyed the facade of the building and halted the traffic for over four hours.When the firemen finally managed to put out the flames, the tragic outcome became apparent: a worker had lost his life, people had been injured and eight paintings had been seriously damaged.Among the ‘victims’ were two works from the Water Lily series by Claude Monet: the largest lost forever while the smaller – Water Lily (1914-26) – was unrecognizable.

The 1958 fire in the MoMA
One of the halls at the MoMA after the fire
Evaluation of the damage the fire caused on the “Water Lilies
Carlos Bayod, Head of 3D Department, Factum Arte
Photogrammetry: a contactless technique in which the “Water Lilies“ are captured with more than 80% of superimposition at a distance of circa 50 cm from the surface
Recording of the destroyed “Water Lilies“ (1914-26) through Factum Arte's Lucida 3D Scanner
Photogrammetry: a contactless technique in which the “Water Lilies“ are captured with more than 80% of superimposition at a distance of circa 50 cm from the surface

THE REBIRTH OF THE “WATER LILIES“.

For the job of re-materializing the “Water Lilies“ (1914-26), the Factum Arte team only had one black and white photograph of the painting, which had come from the MoMA archives.However, during the research phase, the experts discovered that the remains of the original were still preserved at the New York University, where they were given access to the canvas for analysis.

In the initial phase, both the colour and 3D texture of the painting’s burned surface were recorded using close range photogrammetry, a technique that takes incredibly high-resolution photos of an object at approximately fifty centimeters distance. The images collected are processed by software – RealityCapture to be precise – that transforms them into 3D files. To support the data obtained from the photogrammetry, the surface of the painting was also recorded with Factum’s 3D Lucida Laser scanner that projects a laser beam over the surface recording its distortion, converting it into a 3D model.

Photogrammetry: a contactless technique in which the “Water Lilies“ are captured with more than 80% of superimposition at a distance of circa 50 cm from the surface
Recording of the destroyed “Water Lilies“ (1914-26) through Factum Arte's Lucida 3D Scanner
Photogrammetry: a contactless technique in which the “Water Lilies“ are captured with more than 80% of superimposition at a distance of circa 50 cm from the surface
The sculpture department refines the cast that reproduces the surface of the damaged painting
Aspiring the air, a canvas (seen from behind in the picture) is applied perfectly on the cast of the painting. This allows every single elevation to be transferred exactly onto the canvas
Recreation of the painting's surface, cast on canvas, before the printing of the colors

The data obtained from the analysis makes a digital reproduction of the painting possible. For example, the color of the intact areas was cloned to adjacent areas where it had faded slightly, which allowed the color intensity of most of the painting to be restored. In the more damaged areas, the black and white photo was used as a reference to reproduce the shape of the brushstrokes.To be sure that colors identified had not been altered by the fire, Factum Arte compared them with data obtained from the analysis of a contemporary “Water Lilies“ painting and applied the appropriate corrections.

The sculpture department refines the cast that reproduces the surface of the damaged painting
Aspiring the air, a canvas (seen from behind in the picture) is applied perfectly on the cast of the painting. This allows every single elevation to be transferred exactly onto the canvas
Recreation of the painting's surface, cast on canvas, before the printing of the colors
Pedro de Miró, Head of 3D Department and Director Adam Lowe, Factum Arte
Color printing samples
Color printing samples
Varnishing tests, curated by Factum Arte director Adam Lowe

The 3D model of the damaged canvas, obtained by the photogrammetry, was converted into a greyscale heightmap that highlighted the contours and was printed using a OCE’s 3D printer. A silicone mold was made from the print, thanks to which, using a cast of plaster, it was possible to recreate the surface of the damaged painting. The Factum Arte sculpture laboratory manually finished the plaster cast removing the cracks and filling the holes left by the flames. After the creation of a second silicone mold, the resulting cast in gesso was made to adhere perfectly to a linen canvas by a vacuum process between the two materials. This permitted the transfer of every single contour from the cast onto the canvas. The color data was printed directly onto the texture gesso using a high-precision printer made by Factum Arte. Finally, a transparent varnish was applied which gives the painting a semi-matte effect similar to Monet’s other works.

Color printing samples
Color printing samples
Varnishing tests, curated by Factum Arte director Adam Lowe

1. Black-and-white photo of the “Water Lilies“ before the fire at the MoMA

2. First phase of the digital reconstruction: orthophoto using a reality capture software

3. Second phase of the digital recreation: recovery of colors and damage removal

4. Third phase of the digital recreation: removal of the conservative tape. File ready for color correction and final print

5. Rematerialization of the surface of the painting in gesso on canvas before the color print

6. Final print of the painting

Ann Dumas, Curator at Royal Academy of Arts (London) and Expert Ross King

RECREATION OF
WATER LILIES

Digital Recreation of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies“ (1914-26)
2017 Pigment and gesso on canvas
Recreation by Factum Arte