Category: Conservation

Barts Heritage Project

June 8 2020

Image of Barts Heritage Project

Picture: @BartsHeritage

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Here is an upcoming project that looks rather exciting. The historic portions of St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, more commonly known as Barts, are due to undergo a vast conservation and restoration project.

The Hospital's trustees turned to architect James Gibbs in the 1730s to add some new wings to the existing complex. The surviving north wing includes a fine historic staircase containing two murals painted by none other than William Hogarth (pictured). The project, which is split into two £10m tranches, will aim to conserve and restore these areas in time for the hospital's 900th anniversary in 2023.

Barts Heritage is a relatively new organisation entrusted to see through the project. Its CEO is William Palin, son of British comedian Sir Michael Palin, is an architectural writer and was previously engaged at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

William has shared this fabulous high-resolution image of the above mural on his Twitter account. It will be quite the transformation once all the dirt has been removed!

Rembrandt Revealed in Allentown

May 29 2020


Video: Allentown Art Museum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania will be opening a new exhibition later this summer unveiling a recently upgraded Rembrandt in their collection. Portrait of a Young Woman had long been considered a studio work, however, a detailed conservation project which began in 2018 revealed that this was a painting from the master's hand. The above video details some of collaborative work with conservators from the MET and other institutions.

I can't seem to find any details on which scholarly authorities authenticated the work. Such details are of equal interest when it comes to upgrading a Rembrandt.

Paint Roller Punches Through Picasso

May 26 2020

Image of Paint Roller Punches Through Picasso

Picture: ArtNet

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

ArtNet has reported on an expensive accident in which a Picasso worth $100m was damaged by a paint roller. Picasso's Le Marin (pictured), owned by casino mogul Steve Wynn, was due to come up for sale at Christie's in 2018. However, before the sale an employee from the decorators T F Nugent left out a paint rod extension that came crashing down on the work which was waiting on foam pads ready to be installed. The auction house's insurers Steadfast Insurance Co. is suing T F Nugent for $18.4m in damages.

Bizarrely, the article reports that an enormous sum was spent on restoring the picture;

Following the incident, Christie’s had the work restored, spending $487,625 to close the gaping hole and the surrounding damage, a total area of seven inches long and two inches wide.

Steadfast hired two art experts to appraise the restored work and assess how much the accident had impacted its value. The lawsuit contends that the appraisers found that the painting had previously been worth up to $100 million, but that the accident had lowered its worth by 20 percent, or $20 million, “given the extent of the physical damage to the Le Marin, and the accompanying reputational damage.”


Vatican Frescos Unveiled

May 19 2020


Video: Vatican City News

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Vatican Museums have unveiled a newly restored fresco cycle in the Aula Pontificum Superior, a room on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace designed for banquets and receptions. The restoration, which began in 2015, has led to several new discoveries including the reattribution of two figures in cycle to Raphael himself. Most of the work, however, is given to Giulio Romano, Giovan Francesco Penni and other workshop collaborators.

These rooms will soon be open to visitors as Italy begins to reopen its museums.

Webinar with Rijksmuseum Scientist

May 6 2020

Image of Webinar with Rijksmuseum Scientist

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Institute of Conservation (ICON) is running a free webinar today on 'Metal Soaps in Art'.

It's far more interesting than it might first sound, as the webinar's overview points out;

Old master paintings as well as modern and contemporary art are subjected to changes from the moment they have been made. Discoloration, increased transparency and darkening, crumbling of the paint, paint delamination and loss: these are just some of the degradation phenomena encountered on oil paintings. This presentation focusses on the wide-spread degradation phenomena that is related to pigment-oil binder interactions, which are metal soaps. Metal soap related defects are observed in paintings by amongst others Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Piet Mondrian. Approximately 70% of paintings in museum collections are affected by metal soap-related degradation

This online lecture will by Dr Katrien Keune, Head of Science at the Rijksmuseum. It starts at 4.00pm UK time (6th May 2020), and you don't have to be a member of ICON to join (although registration is required).

Before and After

May 4 2020

Image of Before and After

Picture: Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

There was an interesting image posted onto Twitter last week (via Maaike Dirkx @RembrandtsRoom) of a portrait that was recently sold at Sotheby's.

A portrait of a gentleman standing beside a framed portrait of a lady (right), which appeared in the recent Rafael Valls sale at Sotheby's, actually appeared in auction at Sotheby's NY in 2013. The image on the left shows how the painting appeared in the 2013 sale before the picture was conserved.

Curiously, you'll notice that someone had chosen to paint out the gentleman's arm at a later date. We may only speculate as to why this may have been done. Perhaps the composition wasn't considered appealing enough in a previous age. Many paintings 'restorers' of past centuries often carried out such alterations to pictures that didn't meet the aesthetic standards of certain owners or dealers. It's wonderful to see that in this case this alteration was entirely reversable.

Technical Analysis of Girl with the Pearl Earing

April 28 2020


Video: The Mauritshuis

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Mauritshuis in the Hague have published some recent technical analysis undertaken on Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earing. This in-depth research has lead to some interesting findings, including that this enigmatic figure was originally painted in front of a green curtain. The video above, made by Mauritshuis conservator Abbie Vandivere, explains some of the technical aspects of the painting's condition.

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.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.