A €10m artwork by Claude Monet all but destroyed when a man put his fist through it is once again hanging where it belongs after a painstaking restoration.
The impressionist painting was ripped apart in a devastating three branch tear in June 2012 while it hung in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
After a delicate 18 month restoration, Argenteuil Basin With A Single Sailboat, dating from 1874, has been restored to near its former glory and is back on the walls.
The tears on the canvas laid end to end would have been about a foot long in a painting less than four feet square.
Sean Rainbird, director of the National Gallery of Ireland, likened the meticulous repair to microscopic needlework.
“It was huge damage, shocking damage,” he said.
“This project to restore and conserve one of the gallery’s most popular impressionist works of art is testament to the outstanding expertise and dedication of our professional team of conservators.”
A man is awaiting trial over the vandalism.
The oil painting – the only Monet in Ireland’s national collection – is relatively small at 55cm by 65cm but regarded as a classic with its own significance.
It was painted at a time when Monet was using a boat as a floating studio on the Seine to paint scenes of the river and its banks.
It is now being housed behind protective glass – a low reflective, ultraviolet-filtered climate box with a humidity buffer.
Monet painted the scene in his own distinctive brushstroke style and contemporary colours in the same year that the first impressionist exhibition was held in Paris.
It depicts the shifting clouds, rippled water, golden leaves and a gliding yacht which gives a sense of transience.
The painting was bequeathed to the State by dramatist and politician Edward Martyn who bought it on the advice of his cousin, the writer George Moore, who lived in Paris and knew the impressionists.
The repair work first involved gathering hundreds of microscopic fragments of paint which broke off the canvas in the vandalism – most measured 0.3-1mm across.
Seven per cent of the tiny pieces could not be saved after some split into powdery dust and where too tiny to reattach in the jigsaw restoration.
Conservationists revealed how they removed the painting from its frame and delicately sewed together thousands of fine threads which made up the canvass.
Under a microscope and using surgical tools and special heaters, they reattached fine materials with a specially formulated adhesive which has been used in similar work in Germany for the last 40 years.
The varnish which covers the oil paint was also been cleaned before returning it to the gallery giving it a brighter and fresher feel, closer to what it originally artwork looked like 140 years ago.
The canvass has been lined across the back to provide additional support to the repair work.
Simone Mancini, the gallery’s head of conservation, said: “The National Gallery’s approach to the conservation of Monet’s painting was primarily dictated by the need to retain the integrity and originality of the painting and by applying the principles of reversibility, clarity and minimum intervention.”
The restoration was supported by BNP Paribas.
The bank’s funding allowed for the hiring of a Monet Paintings Conservation Fellow, Pearl O’Sullivan, specialist tools and materials, research and the publication of an online education resource on the gallery’s French 19th collection.
The return of the painting and the story of its vandalism and painstaking repair will be a further boon for the National Gallery of Ireland which is already top of the list of free visitor attractions in the country with 641,572 people enjoying the collections last year.
Jean-Jacques Goron, managing director of the BNP Paribas Foundation, said: “Argenteuil Basin With A Single Sailboat has been returned to its original luminous eclat and again hangs prominently in the National Gallery of Ireland.”
Gilles de Decker, country head Ireland for BNP Paribas, said the restoration coincided with the bank’s 40 year presence in Ireland.
“Notwithstanding the obvious appeal of the links between Ireland and France as represented by the painting, it was an opportunity to step up during a challenging time for Ireland,” he said.