Leeds masterpiece's hidden meaning is revealed

Praxitella is studied by the gallery's curator, Nigel Walsh

In Leeds, the tale of how a missing masterpiece was buried beneath another well-known 20th-century painting for more than 100 years is being told.

The image of a contemporary city in Atlantic City was purely fictitious.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, the leader of the short-lived Vorticists movement, found it in 2019 under a painting titled Praxitella.

It was located by two students at the Courtauld Department of Conservation in London using X-ray analysis.

Display case with magazine picture of Atlantic City painting
The Leeds Art Gallery has a display case with a magazine drawing of Atlantic City on display.

Since 1945, Praxitella, which was created by Wyndham Lewis sometime around 1921, has been a part of the collection at the Leeds Art Gallery.

A representative for the gallery claimed that minute details like raised paint lines and minute surface cracks led experts to speculate that there might be another painting hidden beneath the original.

The true composition's nature remained a mystery, though there was no way to be certain of it.

That is, until Rebecca Chipkin and Helen Kohn discovered the long-hidden Helen Saunders painting, Atlantic City, while conducting research for their book Praxitella, which was on loan from the Leeds Art Gallery.

X-ray of Praxitella
An X-ray of Praxitella showed glimpses of bright red through cracks in the surface paint and uneven texture.

Principal keeper Jane Bhoyroo of the Leeds Art Gallery stated: "Praxitella has long been one of the most well-known pieces in the gallery's collection and is rightfully recognized as a hugely important piece in its own right.

"Praxitella gains a whole new dimension and significance from the discovery of a completely different work beneath it, which gives its narrative even more complexity and depth. ".

Things Left Unsaid, a show at Leeds Art Gallery, includes the narrative of the two pieces of art.

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