Shedding the Varnish

Original title: L’allègement des vernis

Publication Date:

January 2023



Original language and publisher

French | Editions Philippe Rey

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Territories Sold

Japan (Shinchosha)


Crime & Thrillers, Debut Novel

Number of copies sold:



  • Prix du Meurice 2023 (longlisted)
  • Prix Orange du livre 2023 (longlisted)
  • Prix La Ponche 2023 (winner)
  • Prix du Roman news 2023 (longlisted)
  • Prix du Cheval blanc 2023 (longlisted)
  • Prix Orange
  • Prix du Meurice
  • Prix La Ponche
  • Prix Poulet-Malassis, Alençon
  • Prix du Roman qui fait du bien
  • Prix Hélène Dufour, Marennes
  • Prix du Cercle du Château de l'Hermitage
  • Prix Montbarbon, Bourg-en-Bresse
  • Prix du Baz'Art des Mots, Hauterives
  • Prix Passion Passerelles

Shedding the Varnish

Original title: L’allègement des vernis


A zany scientific thriller (…) based on contemporary reality, combining serious information with a wild plot. A man of images who happens to be close to the case (Paul is from the Saint Bris family, owner of the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo died), the author also invites us to question our ever-evolving relationship with art, torn between comfort and modernity. – Livres Hebdo

Just as Colalucci removed the varnish from the Last Judgement in 1994, the Italian frees the Mona Lisa of her masks. The result does not please Homero, a touching counterpoint character, who is both a surface technician and a choreographer.
After this perilous restoration, the Mona Lisa is “condemned to never again be observed as she should be”, “in a one-on-one meeting.” Clearly, the technique of shedding the varnish reveals itself as a parable that disturbs our perception of works of art as much as it does our perception of human beings. – Les Échos

L’Allègement des vernis is a book with multiple facets: both painting of the very closed milieu of art restorers, melancholic reverie of a man lost in his time, satire of the media and reflection on our relationship to images, it is also a suspense novel, with a breathtaking end. — L’Express

This funny novel immerses us with humor and a certain poetic melancholy in the hushed world of museums, where we sometimes confront with violence but always behind the scenes. —Le Pélerin

In this addictive first novel accessible to all, Paul Saint Bris questions our relationship to beauty and the place occupied by works of art in our lives, parasitized by social networks on which images scroll endlessly. — Le Journal du Dimanche

A delightful debut novel by Parisian art director and photographer Paul Saint Bris. A captivating debut novel about an invented and wildly controversial restoration of the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world.

In this deeply engaging and instructive novel, which sometimes resembles a scientific thriller, the director of the Louvre’s Paintings Department is forced to undertake one of the most important restoration (and marketing) ventures in the history of art: he must remove the varnish of the Mona Lisa and give her back her true colors, even if it means changing the perception we have of the world’s most famous image.
Therein lies precisely the essential question of Paul Saint Bris’ book. Mixing serious information on art history and a fast-paced plot, it invites us to question our ever-evolving relationship with art and beauty.

Aurélien, a nostalgic intellectual and head of the painting department at the Louvre, sees the museum as a haven in which he can take refuge from the changing world. When a new CEO, an energetic and terribly pragmatic woman, arrives, he is told he must restore the pinnacle of artistic masterpieces, the Mona Lisa. A perilous undertaking to meet the demands of visual fanaticism and sinister marketing ploys. He admits Mona Lisa’s colours have faded under multiple layers of varnish, but trying to restore them is as technically risky as it is political. No conservator has dared thus far. And is it really necessary to conform to the bright aesthetics of modern advertising? Is it a good idea to turn back time?

This lively and spirited novel casts a caustic lens on the visual binging of our times, on our relationship with art and the commercialisation of beauty. It questions our relationship with change, pulled toward modernity and yearning for the comforts of the past. A well-documented work, it takes us on a trip through the little-known history of art restoration and showcases a group of endearing characters in the most beautiful museum in the world. With humour, it brilliantly demonstrates how shedding varnish on paintings and on people can be good for everyone.