Category: Conservation

Cleaning Elizabeth I

September 23 2014

Video: NPG

Great video here from the National Portrait Gallery, where conservator Sophie Plender discusses cleaning the 'Phoenix' portrait of Elizabeth I. The end result looks fantastic (you can see it in the new 'Real Tudors' exhibition I mentioned yesterday). Congratulations to Sophie and all involved. 

Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

September 22 2014

Image of Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

Picture: National Gallery

A newly discovered painting by Joachim Wtewael has gone on display at the National Gallery in London. The picture, a Raising of Lazarus painted c.1605-10, had lain unnoticed and without attribution at Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire, until it was suggested by a specialist at Bonhams that Wtewael might be the artist. The picture was then sent to the National Gallery for cleaning, and it will now be on show there for ten years. You can see a pre-restoration image here, on Your Paintings

The picture is 'Painting of the Month' for October, and you can read more about the picture here

I don't know who the Bonhams specialist was - well done whoever you are!

Italian Museums (ctd.)

September 4 2014

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: Galleria Sabauda

The Independent has more grim news from the Italian museum world; the Galleria Borghese's climate control system (which is, open the windows every now and then) has apparently caused Raphael's Deposition to 'warp'. But apparently the 'deformation in the painting ha[s] now been reduced'. So that's alright then.

But from Turin, there's better news, as the Galleria Sabauda is to be re-opened following refurbishment. But, reports The Spectator:

From 30 October, Leonardo’s drawings, including the famous sage-like self-portrait [above] and the drawing for the head of the angel in the Louvre’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, will go on permanent display in the Sala Leonardo, while drawings by other masters in the collection — including Raphael’s ‘Study of a Youth Playing the Lute’ — will be shown in the second vault. In December, with the reopening of the Galleria Sabauda, the Savoy paintings will go back on view. As well as works by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, the Pollaiuolos, Filippino Lippi, Veronese and Orazio Gentileschi, the collection includes Netherlandish paintings by Van der Weyden, Van Eyck, Memling, Rembrandt, Brueghel and Rubens — among them a charming portrait by Van Dyck of the three children of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, sent by the English Queen to her sister Christine of Savoy.

I presume the Leonardo drawings won't actually be on 'permanent display', as they certainly shouldn't be (for conservation reasons). By way of comparison, the Albertina in Vienna only brings out Durer's famous 'Hare' only once every six years. 

'Another art theft in Italy'

August 27 2014

Image of 'Another art theft in Italy'

Picture: TAN

Hannah McGivern of The Art Newspaper reports another theft of pictures, this time from the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

Update - for more on the alarming state of Italian museums, see Apollo editor Thomas Marks' account of his visit to museums in Naples recently. 

Rubens self-portrait to be restored in London

August 26 2014

Image of Rubens self-portrait to be restored in London

Picture: Rubenshuis

The Rubenshuis' very fine c.1630 Rubens self-portrait is to be sent to the National Gallery in London in September for conservation. More here. You can zoom in on the portrait here.

Update - a reader writes:

Good of the National Gallery to help out, as they did with van Eyck, and I assume they are charging for it or at least getting something substanantial in return.  Otherwise, I ams sure there are any number of regional collections in this country which would be only too delighted to have the Gallery's conservation studio's apply their expertise on works they hold.

Are you the 'South Ken Scrubber'?

August 14 2014

Image of Are you the 'South Ken Scrubber'?

Picture: Christie's

There's an art dealer out there somewhere whose modus operandi seems to be this: buy a cheap but vageuly enticing-looking old picture in a far flung auction house; give it a fairly brutal 'clean' with acetone and a brillo pad (by the look of it); and then consign it to Christie's South Kensington. I don't knwo who it is, but I call them 'the South Ken Scrubber'.

The above portrait of Charles I sold at Christie's South Kensington in July for £5,000 inc. premium looking like this. It had previously sold at Chorleys auction (as below) in Gloucestershire for £2,200 (exc. premium). After commissions, Vat and travel 'the Scrubber' might have made a few hundred quid. But the picture is damaged forever.

2 days left to help restore 15th Century altarpiece

August 13 2014

Video: Bowes Museum/ArtFund

The Bowes Museum is close to raising the £21,000 they need to restore a fine 15th Century Flemish altarpiece. The fundraising, which is being led by the ArtFund on their new Art Happens site, is 89% completed, with just 2 days left to go. So if you've got a few spare spondoolees, please help them out. There's a range of goodies on offer too.

I'm pleased to see that the Bowes campaign (which I've plugged here twice before) is the most funded project on the new Art Happens site. So if readers have contributed already, many thanks. It's good to know that a campaign to restore a 15th Century anonymous painting in the North of England has gotten far more traction on the Art Happens site than the appeal to raise £25,000 to pay for a Chapman Brothers exhibition (which is only at 68% funding, despite the recent burst of 'publicity' for the show).

Update - it's now at 96%, one hour after posting the above. Anyone want to be the crucial final donor? 

Update II - 14.8.14: they've got to 100%. Well done all contributors. 

Restoring Le Brun's 'Jabach and His Family'

August 4 2014

Image of Restoring Le Brun's 'Jabach and His Family'

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

I've just noticed that Keith Christiansen, head of European Paintings at the Met, has a blog, which is worth checking for some interesting photos of his work in the galleries there. This post details the Met's plan to restore Charles Le Brun's Everhard Jabach and His Family, which was so recently (and sadly) lost to the UK.

Cleaning Rubens

July 22 2014

Image of Cleaning Rubens

Picture: Royal Collection

The latest Royal Collection annual report is out, and tells us that Rubens' Portrait of Don Rodrigo Calderon has been cleaned. Very fine it looks too. You can read more about the picture here.

Restoring Monet

July 2 2014

Image of Restoring Monet

Picture: Independent.ie

A picture by Monet that was punched by a visitor to the National Gallery of Ireland (above) has been restored, and is now back on display. More on the conservation work here.

Re-founding the Foundling Museum

July 2 2014

Image of Re-founding the Foundling Museum

Picture: Foundling Museum

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey has a detailed report of the latest developments at London's Foundling Museum, which has an impressive collection of English 18th Century pictures, including Hogarth's portrait of Thomas Coram, above. Here's the story in a nutshell.

Coram was the founder of the Foundling hospital orphanage, and the charity which is now the successor to the hospital, 'Coram' (re-branded from 'The Thomas Coram Foundation') attempted last year to wrestle control of the museum and its contents by sacking both the director and its board. There were fears that the charity wanted to gain control of the assets, and potentially sell them. After intervention by the Attorney General and the Charity Commission, 'Coram' has now had to back down, and the original trustees have been re-appointed. However, this still leaves the Museum with a formidably difficult task, for they have only until 2027 to buy all the pictures from 'Coram'. The collection is thought to value up to £30m, and so far the only major picture the trustees have managed to acquire is Hogarth's March of The Guards to Finchley for £4m. 

A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

June 29 2014

Image of A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

Picture: CMOA

They've broken out the acetone at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for a new exhibition, Faked, Forgotten, Found. A previously 'tarted up' portrait of Isabella de Cosimo de Medici (below) has been making the headlines (e.g., in the Daily Mail here), but more interesting I think is the above portrait of Lord Bergavenny (1469-1535). Long thought to be a fake 'Holbein', due to rancid-looking later overpaint in the background, new analysis has revealed under-drawing and a much earlier background (left hand top corner) perhaps painted with smalt. I'm going to ask the CMOA for an image of this under-drawing (often crucial in Holbein attributions, as we're looking for signs of originality), and will report back if I get one. In the meantime, you can see a high-res image of the partially cleaned picture here. No panel painting by Holbein of Bergavenny is known. There is a drawing of the same sitter by Holbein at Wilton house, image here, and a miniature is also known.

Update - the CMOA have very kindly sent me this IR photo. 

Update II - a painter writes:

The partially cleaned ' School of Holbein' portrait of Lord Bergavenny is definitely based on the Wilton drawing or an exact copy of it, because it reproduces a slight error of draughtsmanship in the original drawing. There is also a miniature based on the same drawing, claimed to be by Holbein.

One of the characteristics of Holbein's (alleged) use of a form of Camera lucida (like Ingres) is the occasional misplacement of  one of the eyes, usually the one furthest from the picture plane. This can be caused by the sitter slightly changing the angle of his/her head, during the creation of the drawing.

This phenomenom can seen very clearly in the painting of Jane Seymour where her right eye (further from the picture plane) appears larger than the nearer, left eye. Surprisingly this has been transferred, apparently unnoticed by Holbein, from drawing to painting.

In the case of Bergavenny, the sitter's left eye in the Wilton drawing is very slightly too high up, in relation to the nearer eye, which Holbein will have drawn first and this has been reproduced in the painting, now being cleaned.. 

In other drawings, the sitter has turned slightly towards Holbein so one sees more of the eye than the strict rules of perspective  allow-( I believe this is what happened with Jane Seymour). 

The drawing looks immensely more powerful than the painting in its present state and I much look forward to seeing if it improves with cleaning.

I don't buy the camera lucida theory myself.

7,564

June 29 2014

Image of 7,564

Picture: TNA

That's the number of oil paintings in the Royal Collection, which we only now know for the first time, reports Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper:

Britain’s Royal Collection is to undergo the most ambitious condition survey ever carried out on a major group of paintings. On the eve of the conservation project, The Art Newspaper can give the precise number of paintings for which the collection is responsible: 7,564 works in oil. This is the first time that the number has been confirmed in the past 500 years. The works will all be condition-checked and properly photographed, and images of most of the paintings will be published online, revealing for the first time the extent of the world’s greatest private collection.

The Painting Condition Survey is due to begin this summer with the “lesser” palaces—Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Scotland. A team of four conservators and frame technicians will move systematically through each of the royal residences, room by room. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, says that the paintings will be taken off the wall, one by one, and removed from their frames. This will be a complex logistical exercise, since the pictures hang in 13 royal residences throughout the UK.

Cleaning Caillebotte

June 26 2014

Video: Art Institute of Chicago

Check out those big swabs.

IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

June 17 2014

Image of IR photo reveals mystery Picasso portrait

Picture: AP/Guardian

Infra-red analysis of Picasso's 'Blue Room' [Phillips Collection, Washington] has revealed a 'mystery portrait' beneath the paint layers. More here

Prudery

June 12 2014

Image of Prudery

Picture: Sotheby's

The Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale has gone online (London, 9th July), and there are many fine pictures to peruse. The cataloguing is good too. I was tickled to see the above example of prudish over-paint in lot 15, a work by the studio of Jan Brueghel the Younger. It reminds me of that Pete & Dud sketch, when they discuss nudity in art. 

Bargaining with Caravaggio

June 12 2014

Image of Bargaining with Caravaggio

Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art

This story from Cleveland.com sheds light on the curious bargaining that sometimes goes on when museums arrange international loans. The above picture, The Crucifixion of St Andrew by Caravaggio, was offered as a loan to a Sicilian museum by the Cleveland Museum of Art after Sicilian authorities threatened to charge exorbitant fees for a loan exhibition of antiquities:

In one of his last acts as director of the museum before he resigned last October, David Franklin agreed to lend the Caravaggio and other works in exchange for an exhibition of Sicilian antiquities.

Cultural authorities from the island region had previously agreed to send the exhibition to Cleveland after its run at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The two institutions co-organized the show.

Nevertheless, after an election and a change of government in Sicily, a new group of authorities threatened to cancel the show's run in Cleveland unless the museum paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan fees imposed at the last minute.

The Sicilians withdrew the demand after Franklin offered to lend the Caravaggio, which he called "a bargaining chip," along with other works.

Franklin and the Cleveland museum earned praise for not knuckling under to the financial demand, which could have set a dangerous precedent for other museums. At the same time, the arrangement raised questions about whether the painting is too delicate to make the trip to Sicily.

The Cleveland museum now says the deal has not been finalized. Its leaders say that Sicily has not yet responded to requests for information about climate control and security in venues where the Cleveland artworks would be shown.

The picture is currently being cleaned by the Cleveland Museum of Art, to see if it is safe to travel.

Whale!

June 4 2014

Image of Whale!

Picture: The Guardian/Fitzwilliam

Restorers at the Fitzwilliam museum have discovered a whale beneath 18th Century overpaint on Hendrick van Anthonissen's View of Scheveningen Sands. More here from Maeve Kennedy in The Guardian. Below is the 'before' picture.

Vandalised Rothko back on show at Tate

May 13 2014

Video: Tate

In October 2012 some deluded fellow vandalised one of Tate Modern's Rothkos. He got two years in jail, and now just over a year and a half later, the picture has gone back on display. To their great credit, Tate made the above video about the painstaking process of restoring the work. 

Update - the wally who vandalised the picture has written a strange article for The Guardian. He goes on and on about his new creed, 'Yellowism', but doesn't actually say what it is.

Broke Italian museums

May 12 2014

Image of Broke Italian museums

Picture: Wikipedia

News that the Galleria Borghese's air conditioning system has broken down reminds me that I've been meaning to post a rant something about my recent trip to Rome, and the art galleries there. First, here's what The Guardian reports about the Borghese's climate crisis:

Concerns have been raised about the preservation of one of the world's finest art collections after it emerged that a cash-strapped museum in Rome had resorted to opening its windows to reduce humidity.

Home to masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Rubens, Rome's Borghese Gallery has been without air conditioning in one section for two months due to a funding slowdown, just as Rome sweats through a hot spring.

While most of the world's most prized art is increasingly housed in climate-controlled rooms to shut out humidity and pollution, guards at the gallery are opening windows to try to lower the temperature.

"We have been in the grip of this emergency for two months," the museum's director, Anna Coliva, told Italian daily La Repubblica. She said the air conditioningwas worn out after years of scant maintenance, with requests over the past few years for a new system falling on deaf ears.

Built in the 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to house his burgeoning art collection, the Borghese Gallery boasts such works as Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit and Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, as well as sculptures by Bernini and Canova.

Custom built for the cardinal's collection, the frescoes on the ceilings of the building echo the themes of the works of art beneath them.

Opening windows might bring in cool air now, but with summer approaching, the race is on to get the air conditioning working again. In the meantime, the paintings risk exposure to humidity and pollution from Rome's heavy traffic.

The fact that Italian museums are feeling the pinch comes as no surprise, given the austerity regime there at the moment. But what should be surprising is the fact that major museums like the Borghese, with their priceless Berninis, Titians and Raphaels, cannot even get the basics right like climate control. When you've got large panel pictures, a stable environment is pretty crucial, and simply leaving the windows open won't do.

The sad fact is that Italian state-run museums are often hopelessly and ineffeciently run. Useless websites, arbitrary opening times, optimistic labelling (beware anything which says 'Titian'), and idle staff all combine to leave you yearning for the UK's impeccably run and free museums. Sometimes you wonder if there's more than a hint of corruption involved. A favourite job-creation trick, for example, is the ticket selling and ticket checking routine: one person sells you a ticket at the entrance, and then, just a few inches away, another person then has to check it before you are grudgingly admitted. You may have first had to go through a security scanner, but of course nobody seems to care if it goes beep. If you're lucky, all the rooms in the museum may be open, but usually they're not, and woe betide you if you dare ask for a partial refund, on the not unreasonable basis that only a fraction of the place is actually visitable (like the Palazzo Venezia, in my case). It's no accident that by far the best art gallery in Rome is the privately owned and run Palazzo Doria, where not only can you can get a handy picture-list and an audio guide, but there's even a shop and a cafe.

Finally, a few words of advice to anyone wanting to go to the Vatican museums:

  1. Never , ever go in the morning - the queue goes on forever, and there's literally a giant, seething scrum to get in. Only do this if you've been to Eton and excelled at the Wall Game (I didn't, so ran away).
  2. Book your ticket first online, and go for the last available slot in the day, usually 3.30pm. 
  3. Go round the route slowly, so that you're at the end of hordes, and get a little more space than usual.
  4. Ignore the touts at all costs. 
  5. Take binoculars, to look at all the frescoes.
  6. Take some form of guidebook - there are no labels.
  7. Don't forget the Pinacoteca, go there first.
  8. Spend more time in the Raphael rooms than the Sistine Chapel - they're better, and haven't been wrecked by "conservation".

But despite all this, there's probably no finer city in the world to visit, from an artistic point of view. I loved it. It's my new favourite place.

Update - a reader has much better advice:

Rome is glorious despite the infuriating closures, queues, exhaustion and heat. Your advice is sound- but I recommend a totally different policy: GO IN JANUARY. I strolled straight into any museum or gallery I chose- and never saw a queue.  At the Vatican the people were so spread out that it was easy to see, to linger and to go back. The café was half empty and as the dusk crept through the corridors and the lights went on, it became so quiet that I was afraid I had been locked in. Reaching the main door with half an hour before closing time, I set off around again. As the last entries had already hurried off towards the Sistine Chapel, I had endless vast classical galleries, dimly lit, entirely to myself.  Cold but sublime.

Another reader adds:

And in Italy a small gratuity will encourage museum guards to open a closed gallery or two.

Regarding the Villa Borghese collection, It is important to recall that most of these works sat in uncontrolled climatic conditions for three centuries. Now the buildings are leaking and crumbling around them especially in southern Italy..    

I am truly delighted that you share my opinion of the Sistine Chapel which was produced while on endorphins from painful working conditions. Buonaroti was a great sculptor. Visit St pietro in Vincoli in Rome to see his Moses.

Another suggests a private tour:

If you pay 2 or 3 hundred euros, you can have a quasi- private viewing in the evening with only about 6 other people.

Worth it, no doubt.

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