After a meticulous 18-month-long restoration, Claude Monet’s Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat (1874) is back on view at the National Gallery of Ireland. The painting was thought to have been irreparably damaged in June 2012 when a 46-year-old man punched straight through the canvas.
According to reports, the three resulting tears measured a total of over one foot; more than a quarter of the painting was torn.
The canvas itself, estimated to be worth €10 million is less than four feet square. To thwart future would-be attackers, the painting has now been placed behind protective glass.
“It was huge damage, shocking damage,” National Gallery of Ireland director Sean Rainbird told the paper. “This project to restore and conserve one of the gallery’s most popular Impressionist works of art is testament to the outstanding expertise and dedication of our professional team of conservators.” Though the painting will never be exactly as it was pre-punch, even Rainbird was surprised with the result his restorers were able to achieve.
The work is the sole Monet in the museum’s collection. It was given to the state by Edward Martyn upon his death. His cousin, George Moore, a writer who lived in Paris and was friendly with the Impressionists, including Monet, had advised the politician and dramatist to acquire the work.
Led by the gallery’s head of conservation, Simone Mancini, the restoration effort has been likened to surgery. He told the Examiner that his team’s approach “was primarily dictated by the need to retain the integrity and originality of the painting and by applying the principles of reversibility, clarity and minimum intervention.”
Using a microscope, the restoration team first recoupled each of the threads that had been severed by the vandal’s fist. They then set about reattaching all but seven percent of the minute chips of paint—most of which measured far less than a millimeter across—to the canvas, precisely from where they had fallen. The remaining seven percent had unfortunately turned to powder upon impact. A new backing was then placed on the canvas to minimize stress to the delicate repairs. And, the painting was cleaned to restore its original colors.
The extensive effort was sponsored by BNP Paribas, whose Ireland head Gilles de Decker called it “an opportunity to step up during a challenging time for Ireland,” according to the newspaper. It’s a bright spot of PR during a tough week for the French bank, which pleaded guilty on Monday to having breached US sanctions, an offense for which it will pay nearly $9 billion in penalties.