Category: Conservation

Does good conservation mask bad pictures?

March 16 2018

Image of Does good conservation mask bad pictures?

Picture: NG

In The Art Newspaper, Ben Luke looks into the complex question of condition, and whether good restoration can ever wrongly mask a picture's bad condition. One picture examined is Holbein's Ambassadors:

In 1890, just as the museum acquired The Ambassadors, The Times acclaimed the “faultless” condition of Holbein’s masterpiece, save for “old and perished varnish”. How wrong it was. The conservator Martin Wyld’s detailed record of its 1998 restoration explains its many troubles: as well as the varnish, that gorgeous green curtain we see today was covered in black overpaint; planks forming the support were warped by water damage; and the gaps between them were “filled with cement”. An image of the work after cleaning and before retouching is an alarming sight, especially with extensive losses around the famous anamorphic skull. But retouching has made the picture look better than at any time probably since Holbein first put down his brush.

Cleaning Rembrandt, in public

January 31 2018

Image of Cleaning Rembrandt, in public

Picture: MFA Boston

Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston next month will be able to see a pair of Rembrandt portraits being cleaned. Says the MFA:

Throughout the month of February, visitors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), are able to witness firsthand the restoration of two portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn in the “Conservation in Action” gallery. The treatment of Portrait of a Woman with a Gold Chain (1634) is supported by a grant from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), and the MFA has also committed to restoring its companion piece, Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat (1634). The works were the first paintings by the Dutch Golden Age master to enter a Boston museum’s collection when they were donated to the MFA in 1893.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to conserve these seminal paintings by Rembrandt, which normally have an important presence in our galleries,” said Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe. “Our hope is to gain a deeper understanding of these works, which were painted during an interesting, transitional and intense time in the artist’s career.”

More here.

How not to pack a drawing

January 15 2018

Image of How not to pack a drawing

Picture: Crispian Riley-Smith

The drawings dealer Crispian Riley-Smith has shown on Twitter what happens when an auction house doesn't pack artworks properly. Happily, after a little conservation, the damage is less obvious. 

'Morning Walk' attacked (ctd.)

December 19 2017

Image of 'Morning Walk' attacked (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The trial of the man accused of attacking Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' at the National Gallery in London earlier this year has begun. I hesitate to comment on a trial that is currently underway, but it seems to me that the defendant has suffered serious mental health problems, and that a criminal trial is of dubious public interest. 

Restoring Dresden's Vermeer

November 23 2017

Video: SKD

The Gemaldegalerie in Dresden is restoring their Vermeer of the Girl Reading a Letter by a Window. Says the gallery:

Considering its age, the painting, created circa 1657–1659, is well preserved and is in a stable conservation condition. However, the surface is compromised due to darkened layers of varnish, old retouching and over-painting. A major reason to restore the painting was the reduced readability of Vermeer’s original painting.

Work will continue until 2019. You can follow progress on the project on the SKD's website here

Off with his head!

November 21 2017

Image of Off with his head!

Picture: James Mulraine

When the art historian James Mulraine was visiting Hampton Court recently, he noticed that the in the famous painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, someone had once cut off Henry VIII's head. It turns out (James is one of the best at finding out these things) that some bored Spanish courtiers had done it in the early 17th Century, as one contemporary recorded:

’The last weeke the Sp Ambr had long audience in the Gallerie at Whitehall with [The King] … that tyme his followers were in the next roome, where are many good pieces as your Lordship knoweth amongst others the siege of Kinsale and K:H8 his going into Bolloigne (wch is one of the best there) out of theise were many peeces cutt where the Spaniards received any disgrace in the first where a Spaniard is hanged at Kinsale and in the other the kings head cutt off… this is much spoken off.’

More here

A Guido Reni upgrade

October 20 2017

Image of A Guido Reni upgrade

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has recently cleaned a painting thought to be from the studio of Guido Reni, and has found that it is in fact by the man himself. The Toilet of Venus has now gone on display, and the NG's website says:

Several versions of this composition are known and this painting was long thought to be a copy made in Reni’s studio. However, recent conservation treatment has revealed far more of Reni’s hand at work than had previously been visible. The feathery brushstrokes on the central Grace’s arm, for example, are typical of Reni’s style. Visible changes to the picture’s design, such as the traces of pink drapery on Venus’s belly, show the artist working out his design. Infrared reflectography revealed more substantial changes, such as the addition of the putto at top left over a previously painted architectural scheme. These substantial changes, made during the painting process, not only strengthen the argument that this is the original composition on which other versions are based, but also tally with contemporary accounts that Reni delayed delivery of the painting in order to add in an entirely new figure.

An astute Twitter user has noticed that the painting was given to the National Gallery by King William IV along with another painting, Perseus and Andromeda. This painting, now very dirty and hard to make out, is also regarded as 'after Reni'. Might a clean reveal something new?

Half 'n half

October 12 2017

Image of Half 'n half

Picture: The Saleroom

Do not adjust your set - this picture is coming up at auction soon, with both the frame and the painting half cleaned! Yours for £30. More here

Restoring the Armada Portrait

August 20 2017

Video: NMM

The National Maritime Museum's recently acquired Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I has now been sent off for conservation. It will be away for six to nine months.

More about the picture here

Cleaning Hull's Dobson

June 25 2017

Video: ZCZ Films

The Great Waldemar, who is the British 17th Century artist William Dobson's appointed representative on earth, has paid for the conservation of Dobson's 'Portrait of a Musician' in Hull's Ferens Gallery. He's also made the above short film. Bravo Waldemar!

Two for the price of one (ctd.)

May 16 2017

Image of Two for the price of one (ctd.)

Picture: Washington Post

Conservators at the National Gallery of Art in Washington have discovered that a lost portrait (of a woman playing a piano) lies beneath the above 'Ruth and a Boaz' by Frederic Bazille. Since Bazille died at the age of 28, leaving only about 60 paintings, identifying another is quite a coup - even if we can never really see it. More here

Cleaning Dobson

April 11 2017

Image of Cleaning Dobson

Picture: Waldemar Januszczak

The Great Waldemar, who is among many things the world's number one William Dobson fan, has decided to fund the conservation of one of Dobson's most intriguing paintings, Portrait of a Musician, which belongs to the Ferens Gallery in Hull. The painting has been difficult to assess properly in recent years due to layers of dirt and old varnish. AHN looks forward to seeing what the cleaned picture reveals...

Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

March 22 2017

Image of Cleaning the Fitzwilliam's Madonnas

Picture: HKI

Conservators at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge spent almost 600 hours preparing a series of Madonnas for exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. 'Madonnas and Miracles' opens on March 7th. More here

Van Dyck's fingerprint?

March 22 2017

Image of Van Dyck's fingerprint?

Picture: JVDPPP

The Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has discovered what may well be one of Van Dyck's fingerprints on a painting of St Thomas. If anyone has any other examples, let them know. I've seen two in my time, on a Henrietta Maria and a Flemish clerical painting. Whether they are Van Dyck's himself, or an assistant picking up a wet painting is hard to prove. It's Van Dyck's birthday today by the way - many happy returns Antoon. 

Conservators, look away now.

January 31 2017

Image of Conservators, look away now.

Picture: Maaike Dirkx

This unsettling piece of plumbing was spotted in a church in Bucharest by by the Dutch art historian Maaike Dirkx (here on Twitter).

Re-stocking a stately

January 8 2017

Image of Re-stocking a stately

Picture: NT

Croome Court in Worcestershire is one of the National Trust's more recent additions: the management of the house was taken over by them in 2007. The house did not come with a collection, but now around 1200 items, including a number of pictures, have been returned to the house and will be gradually put on display. More here

Bowes Museum acquires rare Bouts (ctd.)

January 6 2017

Video: National Gallery

Last year, the Bowes Museum in the UK acquired a panel painting by Dieric Bouts the Elder and his Workshop. In the above video, Rachel Billinge of the National Gallery's conservation department gives the painting a thorough technical assessment to find out how it was made.

£4m Government Indemnity payout for Zoffany

January 4 2017

Image of £4m Government Indemnity payout for Zoffany

Picture: TAN

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the UK government will have to pay out £4m to the owners of a painting by Zoffany (above) that was destroyed in the tragic fire at Clandon Park. The payout will be made directly by the Treasury, as the picture (on loan from a private collection) was covered by the Government Indemnity scheme. This allows museums to cover the risk of damage or loss to a painting, without paying an insurance premium. The government - ie, taxpayers - assumes all the risk. The scheme is vital for exhibitions and loans in the UK. The fact that the payout is, as TAN reports, the highest ever made, tells us a great deal about the success of the scheme. For £4m is not really a significant sum, in relation to all the works of art that have been covered over the years. 

Poocasso

December 22 2016

Image of Poocasso

Picture: Picasso Museum

Writing in The Art Newspaper, Diana Widmaier Picasso reveals that Picasso sometimes liked to paint with human excrement. He particularly favoured:

[...] excrement produced by his daughter Maya (my mother [above]), then aged three, to make an apple in a Still Life, dated 1938. According to him, excrement from an infant breast-fed by its mother had a unique texture and ochre colour. 

Get out of that one, conservators.

Rubens' self-portrait to be restored

December 13 2016

Image of Rubens' self-portrait to be restored

Picture: Rubenshuis

I was glad to discover that one of the Rubenshuis museum's star pictures - his c.1630 self-portrait - is to be restored. At the moment it is rather obscured by a thick and plastic-looking layer of varnish, which in normal viewing conditions has the effect of deadening the painting. The varnish, one of the newer 'synthetic' varnishes, was applied no doubt with good intentions during an earlier restoration, in the hope of avoiding the fate of traditional organic varnishes, which go yellow.

As is so often the case in conservation, every generation of restorer's is convinced they've got the best solution to a problem. But in fact they're just storing up trouble for the next generation of conservators.

The picture will leave the Rubenshuis in January, and be back on display in 2018.

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