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Newly acquired Carl Bloch piece unveiled at BYU Museum of Art

PROVO — The Brigham Young University Museum of Art unveiled its newly acquired Carl Bloch painting, “The Mocking of Christ,” Thursday.

The painting was recently rediscovered by Danish art dealer Peter Titelbech after being held in a private collection since 1935. Titelbech was working on a comprehensive list of Bloch’s works when a colleague told him about the painting.

“It was ‘The Mocking of Christ.’ Wow,” Titelbech said at the press conference where the painting was revealed. “Signed and dated Carl Bloch, 1880.”

Titelbech had worked with the BYU museum in the past, and he told his colleague he needed the painting for “an important client.” The painting was set to be auctioned, but Titelbech worked with the auction house and arranged for it to be sold directly to the BYU Museum of Art.

“The Mocking of Christ” will join BYU’s other Bloch painting, “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda,” in the museum’s permanent collection. Museum director Mark Magleby said in the press conference that the people in Utah know Bloch’s art, and many own publications that contain reproductions of Bloch's pieces. This familiarity comes because of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ frequent use of Bloch’s work in meetinghouses and publications.

“People without a lot of knowledge of the full spectrum of the history of Christian art in this area might be extremely familiar with Carl Bloch,” Magleby said.

Representatives of the museum have built strong relationships with owners of Bloch pieces around the world in the process of borrowing art for two special exhibits in 2010 and 2013. Charles Wheatley, whose family purchased both “The Mocking of Christ” and “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” for the museum, attended the press conference with his father, Jack.

“There are many stories of how miracles have happened that allowed the museum to both acquire the Bethesda painting and put on the Bloch shows that have been able to be here,” Charles Wheatley said. “I think those miracles are continued with this piece.”

Bloch painted another version of “The Mocking of Christ” in the same year, and it is housed in the Ordrup church in Charlottenlund, Denmark. Both paintings depict a soldier pressing a crown of thorns onto Christ’s head.

The two paintings have much the same composition, but BYU’s piece is painted in more muted tones. Whereas the Ordrup version includes bright faces and Christ’s red robe, the BYU version is painted in grays and browns.

“In the Ordrup painting, there’s an ugliness to the tormentor, who is spitting — visibly spitting — in the face of the Savior,” Magleby said. “But that’s more muted here. … We read from the Savior’s face the determination to communicate with the viewer individually.”

Titelbech said he used the well-known Ordrup painting in his research of the newly discovered piece. BYU’s painting, he said, has little documentation. The only known record of the piece is a 1935 auction catalog. Magleby acknowledged the piece’s unknown history as he described the differences in the colors of the two paintings.

“As we look at it, there’s a mysterious quality,” he said. “For whom was this commissioned, and what was the owner’s desire in having a kind of grisaille or gray-toned version of this painting?”

“The Mocking of Christ,” which was on public view for two hours Thursday, will undergo conservation before joining the BYU Museum of Art’s private collection.

Email: jjohnson@deseretnews.com