O P E N
S T O R A G E
b. 1945, United States
Het Pelsken, Restored, 2001
Oil on wood
69.75 x 33.5 in.
Collection of The Bass
Gift of Hubert Bush and Douglas S. Cramer
A painting conservator by trade, artist Kathleen Gilje uses the techniques and materials used by Old Masters, learned from restoring damaged El Greccos and Caravaggios earlier in her career, to create satirical parodies of historical works of art. In her uncanny copies, Gilje implies a thorough understanding of the history of art by subtly subverting the original works with a feminist commentary, revealing the male gaze and the vulnerability of the female subject.
In the 1630s, Peter Paul Rubens painted a portrait of his second wife Helena Fourment - whom he had married when he was fifty-three and she was sixteen - nude except for a fur wrapped around her waist, giving it the title Het Pelsken (The Fur). It was a private work for Rubens to which he would not part with, not even to exhibit nor to sell.
In this version of Ruben’s work, Gilje replaces the fur wrapped around Helena with forceful, clasping male hands. As a restorer is it Gilje’s job to rescue the body in question, thus giving Helena a voice in her own portrait over the patriarchal perspective of her husband as she restores the work to its ostensibly rightful place in a discourse of desire.