Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures: Stories Of Lost And Found
Loss is such a terrible thing, and sadly we all experience it at one time or another. In the art world, works of art are constantly being stolen, lost, damaged, or destroyed through a variety of events. Earthquakes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters have been the culprits leading to thousands of pieces of priceless art becoming lost around the world. Wars, incompetence, and human greed have been the reasons for most of the rest.
A list of paintings that have become lost or stolen includes many of the masters: Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Johannes Vermeer, Gustav Klimt, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and even Leonardo da Vinci. Such a list is the “Who’s Who” of the classic art world, but it isn’t restricted to Western artists.
It is a worldwide issue – anywhere there has been a war or a conquering force invading or looting and plundering happening. And this goes back millennia. Nearly every major religion including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other smaller religions have engaged in iconoclasm, “the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons.” This extends to secular destruction as well as loss by violent communist or anti-religious organizations.
And the problem still exists today outside of isolated art theft. When Iraq was invaded by the U.S. and Allied forces, many museums were destroyed as well as looted for the art to be sold on the black market, destroying up to 5,000 years’ worth of art and culture. When ISIL took over Mosul in 2015, the terrorist organization released a video documenting the destruction of the Mosul Museum, which housed thousands of years’ worth of art and artifacts.
But even excluding humans being terrible, sometimes art is just lost by accident or natural events. Art and artifacts get misplaced, locked in storage units (to be discovered later), or found hidden for safekeeping (often the result of war and invasion), sometimes only uncovered by accident.
Some art is simply lost because people abandon it, as happened in many ancient civilizations in both the west and the east. The Mayans, Olmecs, Incas, Aztecs, and Mesoamericans abandoned various locations that were swallowed up by jungles; the vast native American civilizations were combinations of nomadic and agricultural peoples and would leave art and artifacts behind when they moved.
For the vast majority of human history, up to and including modern times, a majority of all the art ever made has most likely been lost or destroyed. This is why when art is found, whether it was stolen or lost to time, it is a celebrated event. Humans put so much effort into creating art; to find a lost item is finding a piece of that person’s life, and it becomes a time capsule of human experience.
Jaeger-LeCoultre understands, this for which reason the brand launched the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures collection highlighting three iconic Western artists and art pieces of theirs that were lost for very interesting reasons.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures
The collection consists of three Reverso watches featuring dials with exquisite miniature reproductions of lost paintings by three masters. The base watch is the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds monoface without the usual offset dial for seconds. The movement is otherwise the same Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 822/2. The case isn’t precisely the same for the obvious reason that a masterful miniature enamel painting has been inserted on the flip side.
The hands and indices are also the same as the standard Reverso Tribute monoface, but the dial and rear of the case is what makes all the difference for these watches. Each of the three versions sports a specific dial unique to that version consisting of hand-guilloche and oven-fired enamel (which together create flinqué) in a hue relating to the color scheme of the specific enamel painting on the rear of the case. The pattern of guilloche is also thematically related to the content of the painting with the aim of creating cohesion between the back and the front.
The three versions all seek to highlight paintings that have been considered lost at one point. They are all from Western painters dating from 1876-1917, specifically Gustave Courbet (1876), Vincent Van Gogh (1888), and Gustav Klimt (1917). Each piece’s painting has its own interesting story highlighting why it was considered a “hidden treasure.”
What was lost is found: View of Lac Léman by Gustave Courbet
The three paintings in question are all incredible pieces of art history from venerated artists, but only one was always considered the masterpiece it is. The other two had different paths to honor.
The oldest painting that the Hidden Treasures collection highlights is View of Lac Léman by Gustave Courbet, a French Realist painter who was exiled from France and lived in Switzerland until his death in 1877. The piece in question was painted a year prior to his death and 15 years later donated to a local art museum in Granville, France.
Since Courbet was a leader of the Realism movement, his later works, which became much more impressionist and atmospheric, were often thought to be forgeries or misattributed. This particular painting, after languishing in storage for seven decades, was found in 1995 and declared by a contemporary expert as one of those same forgeries. It wasn’t until 2015 when the painting was reevaluated after extensive research by modern expert Bruno Mottin that it was found to be an original Courbet work.
It took more than 130 years for the work to be properly admired for what it was, and so for all that time it was a “lost artwork,” largely due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. The technique and style strayed from the master’s typical work so it was forgotten, largely by apathy. That is a sad story with a happy ending as now we can enjoy Courbet’s work as he stretched his artistic muscles, and, if you so desire, you can own a stunning miniature version on the back of a Reverso.
The muted greys, blues, and wispy whites are perfectly reproduced even considering the painting was created using heavy impasto, a technique in which paint is applied thickly either using a palette knife or heavy brush. Mimicking that in enamel is incredibly difficult and showcases the skill of the enameller, Sophie Quenaon, who had never reproduced a Courbet before. The dial also relates to the scene with a wavy guilloche representing Lake Geneva’s waves and a sumptuous blue enamel on top of it. The combination makes for an amazing Reverso edition – and is a close runner-up to my favorite of the bunch.
Another forgotten gem: Sunset at Montmajour by Vincent Van Gogh
Like the Courbet, the next model has a similar history of being underestimated and tossed aside. The impressionist painting Sunset at Montmajour was created by Vincent Van Gogh in 1888 after he moved to the south of France. While this was a very productive period for Van Gogh he also experimented with a lot of new techniques, and this led to some contemporary “experts” dismissing pieces as fakes.
Thus was the fate of Sunset at Montmajour when a Norwegian art collector was told by the French ambassador to Sweden (who claimed expertise in Van Gogh) that it was indeed a fake. The collector was embarrassed and hastily banished the piece to his attic, where it languished for 60 years.
Once it was rediscovered, and an attempt to authenticate it resulted in a confirmation of the apparent fraud, it disappeared until 1991 when the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam tried once again to prove it to be a real Van Gogh. The same result occurred (which is more embarrassing for the museum than the original collector) and it was dismissed until 2011 when the museum, now armed with modern techniques, chemically demonstrated that it was, indeed, Van Gogh’s own paint and must be an original.
In 2013 it became the first full-sized Van Gogh to be authenticated since 1928, and today it is reproduced in stunning miniature detail on one of the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures timepieces.
The dial captures the brilliance of the flora depicted and the light of the sky with a sunburst guilloche pattern underneath crisp green oven-fired enamel. While this piece is my least favorite of the bunch, it can’t be denied that the dial is eye-catching, and the reproduction of Sunset at Montmajour is a masterpiece in itself. Another similarity to the Courbet is the difficulty of capturing the heavy impasto technique of Van Gogh, yet it looks perfect.
Lost not once but twice: Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady
My favorite of the trio is the more unique story about loss. This timepiece reproduces Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady, which was painted in 1917 (at least the work we see today). This artwork is what is known as a double portrait, a painting that covers an earlier painting. This isn’t uncommon in the art world as sometimes artists finish pieces and then become unhappy, choosing to use the canvas to paint a new piece over the top or drastically altering the original painting.
In this case, it is a tale of personal loss for Klimt. As the story goes, Klimt had fallen in love with a young woman who had become his muse. The portrait underneath Portrait of a Lady was of this muse before she tragically died. Stricken with anguish over the loss of his love, he decided to paint over this portrait with a new subject, covering his grief and erasing her image forever. That is the first loss: the painting erased from history as his love had been.
This was discovered in 1996 by an incredibly sharp-eyed art student, Claudia Maga. With that discovery, the only known double portrait made by Gustav Klimt was identified. But only a year later, during preparations for an exhibition, the painting was stolen from the Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza, Italy. What was once lost had now been lost again.
The empty frame was found on the roof, but this was a red herring and it took until 2019 for a random event to uncover the truth. Gardeners clearing ivy just outside the gallery found a metal panel in the wall. Lo and behold, behind it was a black trash bag containing the almost perfectly preserved painting. Given that 23 years is a long time out in the elements, it is almost certain that the painting had been put there very recently to be rediscovered a second time.
I am extremely glad it was found as I am a fan of Klimt, and this piece stood out to me when I first saw this collection. The colors are vibrant and expressive, yet have a softness that helps the painting feel organic. The miniaturized version is absolutely breathtaking, a jewel of the triptyque. The dial features a diamond-patterned guilloche (very fitting to my mind) with a gorgeous turquoise enamel over it that mirrors colors used in the Klimt on the Reverso’s flip side.
This is the watch I would get if I had the means, and the painting that I would gladly pay to have a reproduction made. Funnily enough, this is the only piece never dismissed as a fake or reproduction of this group, yet it is the one I would want (since getting an original Klimt is a dream within a dream).
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures collection is a stunning example of the work that the brand can do to elevate classic art as well as modern artists – and by extension the watch industry as a whole. The artisans who reproduced these paintings are second to none, and combining that skill with a Reverso, one of the most iconic watches of the twentieth century, was a master stroke.
My only hope is that I will get a chance to handle these again, or I will just have to settle for my memory of being in awe that day at the manufacture in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux.
For more information, please visit jaeger-lecoultre.com/jaeger-lecoultre-presents-reverso-tribute-enamel-hidden-treasures.
Quick Facts Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures
Case: 45.6 x 27.4 x 9.73 mm, white gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 822/2, 42-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces per painting