Five famous artworks that were accidentally hung upside-down

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Five famous artworks that were accidentally hung upside-down
This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.

Art will always inspire and provoke, but it also continues to bewilder and confuse. To kick off the new year, we look at some of the lighter examples of a world turned upside down, with even some of the most experienced curators not quite getting the hang of it.

Here are some of the pictures that were accidentally displayed incorrectly.

Paul Gauguin, “Breton Village under the Snow” (1894)

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

This landscape was sold at an auction in Tahiti after Gauguin’s death in 1903. According to Victor Segalen, a friend of the artist who was at the auction, the auctioneer offered the painting upside down and called it “Niagara Falls”. Segalen bought it for the equivalent of a few pence and turned it the right way around, revealing that it depicted Brittany cottages rather than waterfalls. “Breton Village under the Snow” was later acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Piet Mondrian, “New York City 1” (1941)

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Last year, curators at Düsseldorf’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen were about to open their exhibition “Mondrian: Evolution” (through Feb. 12) when they researched one of his own works, “New York City 1 (1941).” They found a 1944 photograph of it propped up in Mondrian’s studio with the double blue lines at the top, suggesting they had hung it incorrectly for decades. But since the fragility of the colored adhesive strips makes it too risky to turn the work over, it remains “upside down” in their current exhibition.

Piet Mondrian “New York City 1 (1941)” was hung incorrectly in Düsseldorf. Credit: History and Art Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

Mark Rothko, “Black on Maroon” (1958)

Tate, London

In 1970, when acquired by the Tate, some Rothko paintings were hung horizontally, reflecting the way the artist drew the canvases on the back. But nine years later, after a re-show, curators changed their minds and hung both versions of “Black on Maroon” vertically. In 1987 they returned to a horizontal hang, but then went back to vertical. Although the two Rothkos have just been stored, the Tate’s website still retains the vertical hang.

At the Tate in London, Mark Rothko's 1958 painting also confounded curators.

At the Tate in London, Mark Rothko’s 1958 painting also confounded curators. Credit: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Van Gogh, “Long Grass and Butterflies” (1890)

National Gallery, London

A 15-year-old schoolgirl visiting the National Gallery in 1965 noticed that “Long Grass and Butterflies” appeared to be upside down. After notifying staff, it transpired that the painting had been temporarily taken away for photography and upon its return, it had been hung incorrectly. Luckily it was only upside down for 15 minutes. Now the Van Gogh will be the star attraction in a touring exhibition of 52 National Gallery paintings in China, starting this May at the Shanghai Museum.

At the National Gallery in London, a 19th century Van Gogh was hung incorrectly again until a 15-year-old girl pointed it out.

At the National Gallery in London, a 19th century Van Gogh was hung incorrectly again until a 15-year-old girl pointed it out. Credit: Niday Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

Salvador Dalí, “Four Fisherwomen of Cadaqués” (1928)

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

The Art Newspaper saw Dalí’s “Four Fishermen’s Wives of Cadaqués” hanging upside down in a 1994 show at London’s Hayward Gallery. It was the phallus that warned us: Dalí would hardly have let it point down. London art critics did not notice. Tim Hilton of The Independent innocently described the upside-down surrealist painting as “the highlight of the exhibition.” We inquired with Antoni Pitxot, one of Dalí’s closest friends, who said the artist told him that the three red crab-like shapes with raised hands represented women mending their husbands’ nets. It remains a mystery why the title confusingly specifies “four”.

Top image: Paul Gauguin’s “Breton Village under the Snow”

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