William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Regifted Fresco Shines in Utah

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The Salt Lake City press is abuzz over a “priceless” Italian fresco, now in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, that was owned and then sold by LACMA.

It was a 1949 gift of the Los Angeles County Museum’s original sugar daddy, William Randolph Hearst. The Crucifixion With Saints is a nearly 9-foot-high fresco transferred to canvas, one of the biggest in this fragile medium to be found in America. The thing is… it’s by one of the least capable fresco painters, the rightly obscure Polidoro di Bartolomeo. LACMA deaccessioned it in 1967, a decent interval after Mr. Hearst’s 1951 death.

The Crucifixion came into the private collection of Garner D. Irvine. He gave it to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in 1984, with funds from another supporter. The much-damaged painting has needed restoration for some while. Two years ago, the Utah Symphony hired Thierry Fischer as music director. It so happens that his wife, Catherine Fischer, is an expert conservator with an illustrious resumé. When she heard about the fresco, she offered to donate her services. The results are phenomenal. Click here for before and after photos.

It’s no mystery why LACMA sold the Crucifixion. The artist couldn’t draw. Much of the paint surface has crumbled away; the restoration makes it possible to appreciate what survives.

Bottom line: Citizen Hearst didn’t sweat the distinction between an old painting and a good old painting. Buy ‘em all and let curators sort ‘em out.

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