Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 14, 2014

Another 'hidden' painting at DIA


A visit to Meadow Brook Hall last year uncovered an important painting by a key 17th-century Spanish artist that now hangs proudly in the European Painting galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The work by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, “The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” was discovered when Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA curator of European painting, was lecturing at the Oakland University mansion. Salort-Pons spotted the 1670 painting on the wall -- perhaps in the very spot where the couple who built Meadow Brook, Alfred and Matilda Wilson, originally hung it.

The curator says he was familiar with the painting, which he knew was in a private collection.

But he had no idea where. “It was a great pleasure to rediscover it,” he says.

Salort-Pons calls Murillo “the first internationally known Spanish artist.”

The museum has long had two other Murillos, “The Flight into Egypt” and the “Immaculate Conception.” All three works, old and newly found, now hang together.

Last year was good for discovering overlooked paintings by significant artists in Metro Detroit.

Also in 2013, staff at Fitzgerald High School in Warren asked the museum for help identifying a painting that hung in their faculty lounge for decades.

It turned out to be by a significant post-war African-American artist who once lived in Detroit, Hughie Lee-Smith.

“Two Figures and Landscape” is now on display in the museum’s African American Galleries.

The Murillo underwent three months of analysis and treatment in the museum’s conservation lab before going up on the wall. In a nice collaboration, Oakland University undergraduates in classes ranging from art history to chemistry visited the museum to observe DIA conservators at work on both the painting and its frame.

“Saint John” took a rather distinguished path to Rochester. In the late 1600s, it belonged to an Italian merchant who donated it to the Capuchin Convent of Genova. A couple centuries later, it was bought by the Duke of Westminster’s family in London. The Wilsons purchased it in 1926.

The painting is on loan to the museum for five years.

‘The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness’ by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward, Detroit

9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

(313) 833-7900

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