Hidden Whale Revealed In Dutch Painting

Two years ago, when the conservator Shan Kuang took a scalpel to a painting in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge - the varnish of which had yellowed and become unsightly - she first uncovered a baffling figure of man apparently standing in mid air, and then gradually revealed that he was standing on the great hillock of a beached whale that had been hidden for at least 150 years, possibly in the process of measuring it.

Until recently, the painting — "View of Scheveningen Sands," created by Hendrick van Anthonissen around 1641 — simply showed groups of people gathered on a beach in The Hague in the Netherlands. There was certainly nowhale when the painting came to the museum in 1873, bequeathed by Edward Kerrich, a clergyman, artist and collector. No one has traced any earlier reference to the whale or to the overpainting that sank it. Kuang can't date the extra layer of paint.
"View of Scheveningen Sands," by Hendrick van Anthonissen before & after restoration,
showing the newly revealed whale

The cleaning of the painting has now revealed that a beached whale provided the focus of the original composition. The whale explains the hitherto slightly baffling presence of groups of people on the beach, and atop the cliffs, on what appears to be a blustery winter’s day. With the Leviathan now back where the artist placed it, the scene makes perfect sense.


Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 317 August 2014 page 8



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Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 317 August 2014 page 8

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