Category: Conservation

Notre Dame de Paris

April 17 2019

Video: Guardian

You'll all have despaired at the terrible fire in Paris. While the restoration project ahead will be long and difficult, it seems we can be relieved that the damage was not worse. Thanks to an extraordinary feat of firefighting by the Paris Sapeurs-Pompiers, the structure of the building has survived. And pretty much the bulk of the interior and stained glass has survived too; the cathedral's stone vaulting prevented most of the burning roof from collapsing into the lower part of the building, and causing any further destruction. 

Botticelli discovery in Greenwich

April 8 2019

Video: BBC

A painting belonging to English Heritage at Rangers House in Greenwich has been found to come from Botticelli's workshop, rather than the later copy it was long thought to be. More here.  

Restoring Van Dyck's equestrian portrait of Charles I

March 18 2019

Video: Tefaf

The National Gallery in London are restoring Van Dyck's large equestrian portrait of Charles I. The conservation has been funded in part by Tefaf, who have made the above video. I saw the picture in the conservation studio when work was just beginning, and although the condition is generally excellent, it was clear that there are many gains to be made, especially in the rear legs of the horse, which had become difficult to see, largely because of surface and varnish issues. 

New Paintings in Pompei

February 17 2019

Image of New Paintings in Pompei

Picture: via BBC

Archaeologists in Pompei have announced the discovery of a mural showing Narcissus admiring his reflection in the water. What an impressive picture, with its pose like a Titian. The announcement follows the discovery in November of a Leda and the Swan painting which, with its contorted pose and exquisitely painted head, rivals many things painted between 1200 and about 1650. Those Romans! And to think that these were fairly ordinary house paintings in Pompei.   

Ironing Artemisia

October 8 2018

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery has nearly finished conservation of their newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi Self-Portrait. And very fine it looks too. I went to see it in the conservation studio recently. The overall condition is very good, and the lighting in the picture works well, which you'd only get with the majority of the glazes and layers intact. In the above video you can see the final stages of the re-lining process. Don't be alarmed to see the conservators taking an iron to Artemisia's face - this is part of the process of making the new lining canvas bond to the original canvas. Of course, in the old days this was often done badly, and sometimes you'll see a paint surface with all the impasto squashed flat - like roadkill - from the application of an iron that was on a cotton setting, when it should have been on silk. 

More 'botched restoration' in Spain?

September 10 2018

Image of More 'botched restoration' in Spain?

Picture: BBC

It's not quite as bad as 'Monkey Jesus Lady', but in Spain, another over-enthusiastic church restoration job has attracted attention. In the village of El Ranadoiro (popn. 28), parishioner Maria Luisa Menendez decided to brighten up a wooden icon, but not everyone approved.

I think it looks great. If Jeff Koons had done it, they'd be selling replicas for millions. 

More here

Fire destroys Rio's National Museum

September 3 2018

Video: AFP

Fire has destroyed Brazil's 200 year old National Museum. Some 200 million items are feared to have been lost. More here from The Guardian, including this sad observation:

At the scene, several indigenous people gathered and criticised the fact that the museum containing their most precious artefacts has burned down seemingly because there was no money for maintenance of hydrants, yet the city had recently managed to find a huge budget to build a brand new museum of tomorrow.

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

September 3 2018

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery conservation team has finished cleaning the Gallery's newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. Despite the odd ding, it's in very good underlying condition. It's been trimmed a bit at the top. 

Underneath the whitewash

August 10 2018

Image of Underneath the whitewash

Picture: Herald Scotland

Here in Scotland, work has begun to reveal a huge 18th Century decorative scheme in an Edinburgh church, which was covered up as 'idolatrous' in the 19th Century. The paintings were made by Alexander Runciman in 1774 in an Episcopalian church just off the Royal Mile. But when the church changed hands, and became a United Presbyterian church, the depiction of the Ascension was painted over, with the new congregation frowning on such things. Now, however, the church is a Catholic church, and when the Scottish art historian Duncan MacMillan figured out that Runciman's paintings might still be there, tests were carried out to see what remained. And these have been deemed so encouraging that the plan is to try and uncover the whole scheme. More here and here

Meanwhile, in a Glasgow nightclub, some early 2001 works by no less than Banksy are also being uncovered, after they were painted over by accident in 2007. More here

At times like this, we must give thanks that the whitewash ordered by Clement VII for the Sistine Chapel was lost in a freak road accident on the Appenine Way in 1534.

Update - I made the last bit up. 

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

July 31 2018

Video: National Gallery

Here's another good video from the National Gallery on the conservation of their newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. Someone needs to put Larry Keith - the National Gallery's head of conservation - on the telly; he does an excellent job here of explaining a complex process in an accessible way. 

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

July 20 2018

Video: National Gallery

Here's a new video from the National Gallery's head of conservation, Larry Keith, about how he and his team will be cleaning the Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. It's excellent that the National Gallery is making this much effort to showcase their new acquisition, and especially that they're putting the focus on restoration. This is an area that really connects with new audiences, as it allows you a satisfying revelation as the old varnish comes off. It's why we make such a big deal of it in Britain's Lost Masterpieces, and why The Burlington stressed the importance of discussing paintings' condition in an editorial recently.  

Van Eyck's lost lamb

June 19 2018

Image of Van Eyck's lost lamb

Picture: via Codart

Restorers working on Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece have removed a layer of 16th Century overpaint which was covering the artist's original lamb (now seen above right). More here on Codart.

Meanwhile, the author of a new book claims that the missing panel, stolen in 1934, is buried somewhere in the city, but he's not saying exactly where. He's based his claim on a letter allegedly written by someone involved in the theft, which contains riddles and mysterious words. According to The Guardian, authorities in Ghent are taking the claim seriously. Although if there was any truth in the claim, why publish the book now? Why not wait until after the panel has been dug it up, and gloriously claim to have solved the mystery?  

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

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