Accueil Polychromies Secrètes
musée des Augustins
Mairie Toulouse

Material history and restoration

Photo of Nostre Dame de Grasse by
Courajod, before 1898 (date of Courajod's

Photo : musée du Louvre, Paris.
The sculpture has been repainted several times since the 16th Century, and these repaintings have stuck to one another, giving the work a chaotic appearance. It was then very carefully covered with a stone-coloured wash at the beginning of the 20th Century, to give it a uniform appearance. Damage sustained by the figure has only been documented since the beginning of the 19 th Century. The black layer covering the face of the Child was undoubtedly the result of urban pollution, as a photograph of 1931 shows the sculpture close to what appears to be an external staircase. We know that the statue owes its eroded appearance to over-enthusiastic cleaning before the exhibition of French Gothic art held in London in 1932.

The restoration was carried out at the Musee des Augustins by a team of restorers, Delphine Masson, Juliette Levy and Marie-Emmanuelle Meyohas, under the direction of Dominique Faunieres. This restoration was a work of considerable magnitude, all interventions being performed with a scalpel, under a binocular magnifier. The main aim of the restorers was to get back to the polychrome in the best condition and if possible expose the original polychrome.

The actual restoration was preceded by numerous studies (from 1998 to 2001) in order to distinguish historical repaints from earlier restoration repaints. The restorers studied the paint layers with increasing precision, first using a simple magnifying glass, then a binocular magnifier, and finally by analysing microscopic samples. These samples, for example, showed that the original mantle of the Virgin, which had been thought to be red, was in fact white. From these various investigations, the restorers concluded that the oldest layer was also the best preserved, while the repaints, which had a tendency to stick together, were of inferior quality.

The restoration of Nostre Dame de Grasse has been exemplary: its particular importance and the complexity of the problems posed justified the establishment of a specific committee composed of conservators and specialists (Mrs Pradalier-Schlumberger, Professor of the University of Toulouse and Mr Jean-Rene Gaborit, ex-Conservator General of the Department of Sculpture at the Louvre) as well as representatives of the Musee des Augustins, the C2RMF (Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musees de France) and the restorers concerned. After years of work, this restoration has enabled the rediscovery of what is unquestionably a masterpiece of the late Gothic era. Although the original state of the work has been irretrievably lost, justice has been done to it by the restoration. This involved removing repaints, repairing structural elements and cracks, and any retouching necessary to restore the full subtlety of the shading of Nostre Dame whilst still allowing an insight into the original range of colours.

Samples taken for the restoration of Nostre Dame de Grasse.