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Taking a closer look

Questions surround oil painting under restoration

STAFF WRITER

January 22, 2005

OCEANSIDE – Some of the mystery surrounding a 129-year-old oil painting at Mission San Luis Rey was cleared up yesterday when it was removed from a wall in the church for a six-month restoration.


EDUARDO CONTRERAS / Union-Tribune
Manuel Trousset (above) of Vista looked at his grandfather Leon Trousset's oil painting, "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary," at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside yesterday.
But the new curator of the mission museum still has questions about the artist, Leon Trousset, and even the painting's correct name.

It was curator Bradford Claybourn's first close look at "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary," a 7-by 10-foot artwork thought to have been painted in 1878.

Yesterday, he found out it was painted two years earlier, in 1876.

Claybourn had hoped the name of the painting was on the back of the canvas, but there was nothing but cobwebs when he looked after maintenance workers took it off the wall.

Commonly known as "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary," it goes by at least three other names.

It was signed by the artist, although the signature wasn't visible to onlookers down on the church floor.

The $17,000 to $19,000 restoration is being paid for by the El Camino Real Chapter of Questers, a national organization dedicated to preserving artifacts and places of historic interest, said the chapter's president, Virginia Brophy of Oceanside.


EDUARDO CONTRERAS / Union-Tribune
he painting was removed from the church's walls yesterday to undergo a six-month restoration.
The mission has two paintings by Trousset. The other is titled "Resurrection of Christ." They are thought to have originally hung in St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles and were later given by the Los Angeles Archdiocese to the Franciscans at San Luis Rey.

The paintings appear in a mission inventory dating from about 1944, but there is nothing to indicate when the works arrived there, Claybourn said.

"There may be a record, but in the 2˝ weeks I've been here, I haven't seen any," he said.

How much are they worth?

"I wouldn't venture to put a put a price on them," the curator said.

Tracy Trousset of Hemet, the family historian, was on hand yesterday to see the painting come down. She said one of the artist's works now in a Las Cruces, N.M., museum, was purchased for $35,000, and another is on the market for $60,000.

She was joined by several other Trousset family members, including the painter's 80-year-old grandson, Manuel, of Vista.

Not much about Trousset is known, including his birth and death dates, perhaps 1835 and 1936, or even where he is buried.

"It's either Juarez, Mexico, or maybe El Paso, Texas," Tracy Trousset said.

Conservators first looked at the two Trousset paintings in December 2003, and both were in poor condition, the Balboa Art Conservation Center's Betsy Court said.

The canvas on which the "Assumption" is painted is sagging and has minor tears and punctures, Court said.

Once the canvas is repaired and attached to a firm backing in the center's Balboa Park facility, it will be cleaned and painstakingly inpainted to replace missing paint. It will be reframed at the mission just before it is hung again.

The local Quester chapter, formed five years ago, has 15 members, Brophy said.

"The mission won hands down" when the group decided to undertake its first restoration project, she said.

The money came from member donations, anonymous gifts, fund-raising events including an antique sale and appraisal at the mission last June, and a $5,000 grant from the state Quester organization, Brophy said.

The group intends to start raising funds again to pay for restoration of "Resurrection."


James Steinberg: (619) 542-4569; jim.steinberg@uniontrib.com

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