The cleaning of the Jabach portrait is going well, and we in Paintings Conservation are all transfixed by the exceptional quality of the painting. One area I was particularly looking forward to seeing without the yellowed varnish was the beautiful figure of Jabach's daughter Anna Maria. She really anchors the right-hand side of the composition, and her self-aware, direct gaze pulls us into the Jabach family's rarefied world. Below are some photographs that I took during the cleaning.
An interesting aspect that has emerged is how the artist captures Anna Maria's reddish blonde hair and complements it with the color choices in her jewelry and costume. This was only partially discernible prior to cleaning.
Discussions about the cleaning of paintings frequently emphasize how the colors change as the discolored varnish is removed, but equally important is recovering the tonal range. Correctly balancing tonal values is one of the most difficult challenges for a figurative painter. This painting is a carefully orchestrated fiction: the artist had to create and combine every compositional element. Le Brun has showcased his skill in depicting the unique qualities of individual materials and how they respond to the fall of light, whilst simultaneously combining everything into an elegant and harmonious whole.
Note in the image of Anna Maria's faithful hound how the yellowed varnish swamps all the gray tones in the dog's coat, to say nothing of Anna Maria's fabulous brocaded dress. Similarly, the removal of the varnish from the still life at Jabach's feet reveals Le Brun's expert balancing of tonal values.