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A P U B L I C A T I O N o f T ‌h e W illia m s town A r t C on s e r v ation C e nt e r

Volu m e 7 , N u m b e r 2   •  F A L L 2 0 1 2

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 1


Contents, Fall 2012

Art Conservator Volume 7, Number 2 • Fall 2012 Director T‌homas J. Branchick Editor Timothy Cahill Art Direction and Production Ed Atkeson/Berg Design Photographer Matthew Hamilton Contributors Leslie Paisley, Larry Shutts, Sandra Webber Proofreader David Brickman Office Manager Rob Conzett Accounts Manager Teresa Haskins Printing Snyder Printer, Troy, NY Williamstown Art Conservation Center 227 South Street Williamstown, MA 01267 www.williamstownart.org T: 413-458-5741 F: 413-458-2314 Atlanta Art Conservation Center 6000 Peachtree Road Atlanta, GA 30341 T: 404-733-4589 F: 678-547-1453 All rights reserved. Text and photographs copyright © Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), unless otherwise noted. Art Conservator is published twice yearly by WACC, T‌homas J. Branchick, director. Material may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Williamstown Art Conservation Center. WACC is a nonprofit, multi-service conservation center serving the needs of member museums, nonprofit institutions and laboratories, and the general public.

On the cover Anonymous photographer, Mary Warburton Sutton and Unidentified Boy (detail), c.1842-43

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3 Director’s Letter 4 Faces of the Past

The fragile beauty of our earliest photographs By Larry Shutts 8 In the Shadow of Bellini

Restoring the Yager Museum’s Madonna of the Meadow By Sandra Webber

12

Jasper Cropsey’s Autumn Idyll

16 WACC News & Notes

Fragments of a painting yield a puzzle and a mystery, Frederic Remington’s fainting couch, FDR’s “Fireside” microphone, staff news 18 Report from Atlanta

Unseen for centuries, a rare Benjamin West returns

19

Tech Notes

Up Close and Illuminated: Artist’s Methods and Materials in the Manton Collection By Leslie Paisley


From the Director

In July, my wife Mary and I had the pleasure of accompanying a group from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute to London to view A Taste of Impressionism, an exhibition of Clark paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts. It was a spectacular installation and I, as a proud conservator-parent, showed off more than three dozen of the “children”—the paintings we treated in preparation for the exhibit. Afterward . . . well, as long as you’ve crossed the big pond you may as well chunnel it over to Paris, so that’s what we did. Main target, the Musee d’Orsay, to compare my recent work on the Clark’s Bouguereau Nymphs and Satyr to the d’Orsay’s equally lavish Bougereau, The Birth of Venus. I was confident I’d done the right thing by removing the thick, discolored varnish layers, but seeing Venus glow with the same alabaster rosiness confirmed my decision. So, time to return to Williamstown, and we are at the airport buying some last minute gifties and Mary turns to me, sheet white, and bursts into tears. She’d just realized her jewelry was back in the safe at the Plaza Athenee. I phoned the hotel and was offered two options, either hire a courier to transport them or come back and retrieve them myself. A courier was excessively expensive and the plane was boarding. What to do? Well, put it this way—several people have congratulated Mary for her unique way of guaranteeing a return trip to Paris! I am writing this now fresh from that return. This time, the highlight was the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais, which includes the iconic Morning in a City, owned by the Williams College Museum of Art. I had given this painting a complicated cleaning in 2006, which we described in Art Conservator, Volume I, Number 1. This is a very different nude from the Bouguereau, and in Paris it was on a wall by itself. Now it was my turn for tears­—the picture looked that beautiful. Sometimes life as a conservator is pretty damn awesome! —Tom Branchick

Bright red cranes have become a common sight from WACC’s perch at Stone Hill Center, as work progresses on the Tadao Ando-designed addition to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The 44,000-square-foot facility, with space for special exhibitions, conferences, and visitor services, will open in 2014.

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Cover Story

Faces of the Past Restoring the fragile beauty of our earliest photographs By Larry Shutts

“T

he surface of a daguerreotype is as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.” These words were the caution of François Arago in August 1839 when he announced to the world the photographic process perfected by Louis Daguerre. Arago’s admonition is as apt today as it was 173 years ago. The slightest touch of a daguerreotype’s surface will mar or even remove the image. Sliding an even slightly rough object across the highly polished silver will produce disastrous scratches. A single drop of moisture causes a permanent stain. Daguerreotypes have always required specialized housing and care, and traditionally been presented in small cases under glass or large, glazed wall frames. Even housed, though, daguerreotypes are subject to several forms of environmental damage, including tarnish, mold, corrosion of the metal base, atmospheric deposits, and degradation of the cover-glass.

In the worst cases, these degradations can be so great the photographic image is completely obscured. Cases themselves also show the effects of handling. They become unglued, broken, faded, worn, and the covers separated and lost. Yet there is nothing as beautiful as a daguerreotype. The delicate, one-of-a-kind image sits suspended between a plate of mirror-bright silver and protective glass. To fully appreciate its magic, you have to hold it in your hand, rock it, twist it, move it until the light strikes just right and the image seems almost to pop off the surface. The effect is startlingly direct, personal—even intimate. Faces of the past are so real and immediate you almost feel as if you should apologize for staring. The original 1839 process was greatly modified by 1843 to the procedure which was generally adopted by the majority of

Above and right, c. 1842-43 daguerreotype before and after treatment. Irreversible physical blemishes are caused by atmospheric and chemical corrosion. The image shows Mary Warburton Sutton, age 11, and an unidentified boy, possibly a brother. 4 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012


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The plate was now ready to use. Exposure times were often extremely long, though at the height of the daguerrean era advanced lens technology combined with increased plate speed had decreased exposures from ten minutes to ten seconds. After exposure, the plate was developed using the vapors of heated mercury, which combined with the exposed silver crystals to form an image. The remaining unexposed halide layer was removed and the image “fixed,” that is, rendered impervious to further effects of light. Typically, the image was toned and strengthened with gold chloride, then rinsed free of all chemical residue and dried. Some daguerreotypes received hand-coloring in the form of dry powder pigments applied delicately to the surface. The image was then sealed behind glass and placed in a protective case. While the daguerreotype is considered a relic of a vanished past, the process is still in use today among a small, dedicated group of photographic artists. I am among them, seduced, as are all modern daguerreans, by the medium’s otherworldly elegance. As both a professional conservator and contemporary practitioner of Daguerre’s art, I have a unique perspective on historic daguerreotypes. Much more damage has been quickly and permanently inflicted by the handling of unknowing persons than through elemental decay. I take a very conservative approach to the preservation of historic daguerreotypes, a collection of which was recently brought to the Altanta Art Conservation Center. This collection, which includes early daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes, follows an old Southern family through decades of growth, marriage, and generational birth. The earliest daguerreotypes date to around 1843, and document the life a one Mary Warburton Sutton (1831-1905). Mary is seen first as a young girl with her Tintype and ambrotype portraits of the Garnier family, following Mary Sutton’s mother and, in a separate picture, with a marriage to Izador Garnier (top right). Above, Mary and daughter Issie, c. 1905. practitioners. In this process, a thin silver facing was clad to a copper plate and polished to a mirror finish. Polishing was done by hand with buckskin-covered paddles and powdered grits of decreasing size. The finer the polish, the brighter the image produced and the greater the photographic sensitivity. The prepared plate was exposed to vapors of iodine and bromine, forming the light-sensitive crystals that hold the image.

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Treatment of the images was carried out with all appropriate boy who may be her brother, then eventually with her husband care (and an added touch of my own daguerrean empathy and and with children of her own. Through the course of sixteen reverence). The photographs were removed from their cases images, we accompany the girl as she grows from childhood and cleaned as far as possible. All the images contained applied into motherhood. We can all be excused for staring. powder coloring that did not allow use of water for surface Almost miraculously, the collection had remained intact in the possession of the family, and came to the lab suffering from cleaning. Treatment was limited to removing extraneous materials with tweezers under the microscope. The cover-glass age but not, thankfully, from mishandling. The photographs and matting were then cleaned exhibited every insult and or, where the glass was badly injury time can inflict on a scratched or decayed, replaced. daguerreotype: desiccated The package of image, mat, and and broken seals, which glass was resealed using paper allowed contaminants to tape with traditional animal settle on the plate surfaces; adhesive. glass covers fogged with Broken cases were mended atmospheric grime and and missing lids were reproduced organic breakdown using molds taken from surviving of the glazing; mold examples. Weak and broken and corrosive copper spines were replaced with more growths; and silver sulfide durable leather to allow future tarnishing that encircled generations to continue to handle many of the sitters in the pictures well into the future. brilliant rainbows. The In 1839, the French cases too displayed the government widely circulated effects of generations of the daguerreotype process family gazing. The spines as “a gift free to the world.” were split, glue joints Daguerreotypes were the most broken, covers missing, popular form of photography and the surfaces worn. in the United States through its The oldest examples Early daguerreotype showing faint double exposure of the head heyday in the 1850s. By 1858, the still had the original and collar caused by movement during the lengthy exposure. process was being hastily replaced pebbled brass matting, by faster, cheaper and somewhat which had been hand-cut easier to produce wet collodion processes. But none of the with a jeweler’s saw. The thin strips of paper that had once subsequent technical innovations have ever equaled the ethereal sealed the edges were brittle, broken, or missing. Air, with all beauty that is the daguerreotype. Grant Romer, a distinguished its contaminants, had long ago settled between the glass and photographic scholar and conservator, has noted, “Photography the image, setting loose complex chemical reactions with the was born perfect, and it has been going downhill ever since.” copper base plate, the silver layer, and the glass covering. In Today we are the caretakers of this photographic legacy. the worst cases, the glass had become completely occluded by Ironically, despite their fragility, daguerreotypes exist in a massive accumulation of atmospheric funk consisting of dirt, relatively great numbers today due to their robustness. Though dust, grease, skin, and hair, as well as sulphur produced by the the surface of a daguerreotype is extremely delicate, the image is oxidation and resulting tarnish of the silver plate. The fogging of the image was compounded by degradation of the glass itself also highly resistant to fading over time. If well-made, carefully through pits, scratches, waves, and a form of glass deterioration sealed, and properly housed, a daguerreotype is as eternal as the elements of silver, mercury, and gold from which it is made. known as “weeping glass,” in which chemical constituents of the glass hydrate and leach out, creating a cloudy haze. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 7


Feature

In the Shadow of Bellini Restoring the Yager Museum’s Madonna of the Meadow By Sandra Webber Conservator of Paintings

T

he name of Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini (14301516) has come down through time synonymous with beautiful religious and mythological paintings, often set in jewel-like, naturalistic views of northern Italy. Of these, he is perhaps best remembered for his serene and reverential depictions of the Virgin and Child. Giovanni, one of a family of painters and eventually a famous workshop master, trained many artists who became famous in their own right, most notably Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Cima da Conegliano, and Giorgione, and many other lesser known pupils. Studio replication of the Master’s popular devotional images, especially Mary and Jesus, was fueled by market demand. Keeping to the Master’s compositions and painting style was an important attribute for potential customers. Later artists who never had been directly associated with his workshop also modeled their work after Bellini, as did generations of art students. Many possibilities come into play when examining an old painting that may or may not be directly connected to the master. In 2011, Donna Anderson, Coordinator of the Yager Museum of Art and Culture at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, brought in a small (48.5 X 58.7cm) Italian panel painting Madonna of the Meadow, which was undergoing research by K. Michelle Hearne Arthur, the collection’s Consulting Curator. Using the museum’s own files and research, and a proposal and images from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, Anderson and Arthur applied for and received a conservation grant from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network. Although granting agencies require comprehensive descriptions of the conservation work and the costs involved, this evaluation was partially blinded by the 8 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012

many previous restorations on the surface, making accurate assessment difficult. The projected treatment encompassed a major examination and restoration of what they hoped would be more definitively identified as a Giovanni Bellini workshop painting. The obvious relationship to Bellini’s larger Madonna of the Meadow (circa 1500) at the London National Gallery provided the foundation for the attribution. Although the London picture has a more complex background with a different, closer walled cityscape and farm animals in the middle-ground, the unusual horizontal composition and the principal figures are nearly the same. However, unlike known Bellini workshop multiples, the two paintings were not produced from the same cartoon, the Yager’s version being much smaller than its possible prototype. The Madonna of the Meadow was a bequest to the Yager Museum in 1960 from collector Louis van Ess, who had purchased it in 1954 from art dealer Anacleto Frezzati. In a 1955 article in Arte Figuratura, the painting had been attributed to Bellini, although later scholarship listed it as an “anonymous example.” The painting is structurally stable and now quite flat due to a transfer done in 1954. The original wood support and possibly some of the thin gesso had been removed and the remaining ground and image layers glued down to a piece of quarter-inch Masonite. This was then veneered with oak on the reverse and edges and a mahogany cradle was installed across the back. It is assumed that the Thorp Brothers of New York performed the transfer, as they are recorded in other Van Ess files. It is clear that whoever did this structural work did very little to the aged restorations on the surface. A fabric weave pattern impressed into the thick discolored varnish was likely the result of a facing fabric applied to protect the surface during the transfer process. A few retouches may have been added at this time, but fear was likely the reason no attempt was made to clean and restore the image in the mid-twentieth century. Although larger-than-normal cleaning tests had been opened during the initial examination, the true condition of the paint layer was not understood until later in the treatment.


The surface was literally buried under very thick and heavily yellowed oil-resin varnish, extensive fills, and repainting. Radiography and infrared photographs were done prior to cleaning in hopes of revealing additional construction and condition information. Although the transfer preparation made the X-ray quite blotchy, we were able to make out white outlining following the figures. The numerous losses follow the original wood grain direction in predicable patterns, caused by movement of the wood as it inevitably shrank, cracked, and warped over time. The presence of wood beetle exit holes points to a second source of the panel’s deterioration. The infrared image showed only a few lines in the background buildings and around the hands of the two figures. Although a complete underdrawing incorporating shading is often found on early

panel paintings, simpler methods of transferring outlines to the surface can not be ruled out. Considering my fears about what might be left of the paint layer, I was somewhat timid about beginning the cleaning. As the two layers of deeply yellowed varnish slowly came away, original color details, extensive overpaint, and previously unseen problems were revealed. The primary condition that emerged was massive abrasion to the paint layers, which had blurred the linear detailing and damaged the final glazes. There appeared to be five distinct filling campaigns on the surface, ranging from large extensive brown pigmented wax areas to dense lead-containing white and pale blue putties. Many of these extended down to the level of the original wood, some were layered one on top of another, and quite a few extended over original paint. Once these

The Yager Museum’s Madonna of the Meadow, after treatment. Opposite, detail with varnish yet to be removed from the face. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 9


fills were removed, a new stronger putty of uniform color was installed. Extensive and insoluble pale yellow overpaint was also discovered on the upper two thirds of the sky, masking what had been a gradation of deep blue above the line of intact pale yellow at the horizon. Overpaint around the Madonna’s head and veil had hidden clusters of damaged delicate halo rays extending into the sky from either side of her head. The surface of the original paint has the soft blended presentation of early oil paint, although Italian artists had only been working with the new oil medium for several decades, often in combination with egg tempera. The delicate linear forms are typical of Bellini’s style and the discreet placement of color within forms is consistent with paintings of the period. During cleaning, Yager Museum staff contracted Richard Newman, Head of Scientific Research at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for analysis of the painting materials. Cross sections were taken through selected color zones, those least likely to be contaminated by previous restoration materials. While analysis was under way, the restoration of the painting’s surface began. With the fills leveled and a light coat of varnish applied, an actual state photograph was taken, showing all the losses toned to one color. Although the artist’s ground looked golden in color, it was believed to be an aged sealant on top of the white gesso, applied to lower the gesso’s absorbency. Image reconstruction began with the architecture

and the surrounding landscape. Folds and shading of the Madonna’s costume were slowly pulled together with numerous glazes, relying primarily on the evidence on the surface, but also using the London painting as a guide. Visually her blue robe appeared to be the greenish-blue mineral pigment azurite, and not the exceedingly expensive lapis lazuli visible on the London image. For the blue inpainting, coarse deepblue azurite was hand ground with a stone mortar and pestle, followed by a second grinding between a glass muller and a ground-glass plate. The problematic sky was re-created from the paler horizon tone up to the top edge of the picture in gradated layers of azurite. The previous restoration of the top of the Madonna’s head and veil had extended too high, so I used watercolor outlines to place them in their proper location prior to inpainting. The Virgin’s facial details, marred by damage and still retaining some previous overpaint, had to be slowly adjusted to bring out the gentle original expression. The tilt of her head and the position of her glance were somewhat different from the London painting, whose eyes were shown nearly closed. Fortunately, the expression was close to that of a 1505-1510 Bellini-and-workshop Madonna in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid. The three small clusters of radiating halo rays and the gold border on the Madonna’s robe were lightly reestablished using shell gold, 24K grains of metal in gum Arabic.

Stages of the Yager Madonna: left, before treatment; center, during varnish and overpaint removal, with white chalk outlining the cleaned areas; right, before inpainting, showing the actual state of the surface with a layer of new varnish and new fills toned to the original ground color. 10 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012


Courtesy Richard Newman/Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Shortly after the restoration was completed, Richard Newman’s technical report arrived and provided much insight into the picture’s materials. The gypsum ground was comprised of only one layer and did indeed have an aged, medium-rich coating isolating the ground from the subsequent colors. This ground preparation, although a thinner variant than seen on earlier egg tempera panels, is consistent with the emerging oil technique. Lead-tin yellow, Type I was found in the yellow sleeve and the paler green foliage. This pigment is used as a dating aid because the recipe disappeared around 1750, and was not fabricated again until 1941. Although two types of lead-tin yellow were produced, Type I began to displace Type II in Italy during the second quarter of the fifteenth century. Other pigments found were the ubiquitous lead white, found in many locations, Kermes red lake on the sleeve, and grains of vermilion, along with various unspecified earth colors. Copper-based green, possibly altered verdigris that had reacted over time with the oil medium, was found in the foliage. The cross sections through the blue robe revealed mere traces of a lapis lazuli layer, indicating there may once have been a thin glaze of the more expensive blue over the predominant azurite. This minimal use of the valuable blue color, often contractually prescribed for the Virgin’s robes, suggests the picture was not a commissioned work. Although Italian painters of this period often mixed or

Magnified cross section of the blue robe, showing traces of lapis lazuli pigment over a thicker azurite layer and ground.

layered their oil and egg mediums, as found on other Bellini workshop paintings, analysis suggests the medium here may be oil alone, principally walnut oil. Earlier research at the London National Gallery suggests walnut oil was the primary oil used in Italy in the fifteenth century. Does this mean the painting is somewhat later than Bellini’s lifetime, or just the work of a more progressive disciple working in pure oil? Did the artist have direct access to the London painting or perhaps a drawing related to Bellini’s workshop, or did he see it years later? These questions must remain unanswered for now. The materials and construction of the Yager Museum’s Madonna of the Meadow certainly fall within those expected on a sixteenthcentury Italian panel. The composition and the quiet reverence of the image also reflect some connection to Giovanni Bellini and London’s Madonna of the Meadow. Perhaps further research and intense connoisseurship might one day assign a workshop assistant of Bellini’s as the artist of this small devotional Madonna and Child.

Sources: Arthur, K. Michelle Hearne, Report on the provenance and history of the Yager’s Madonna of the Meadow, 3 p. Goffen, Rona and Scirè, Giovanna Nepi, “Il Colore Ritrovato- Bellini a Venezia,” Gallerie dell’Academia, Venice, 2000; especially the detail restoration photographs. Kasl, Ronda, editor, Giovanni Bellini and the Art of Devotion, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2004, especially: Andrea Golden, “Creating and Re-creating: The Practice of Replication in the Workshop of Giovanni Bellini,” pp. 91-127; and Cinzia Maria Mancuso and Antonietta Gallone, “Giovanni Bellini and His Workshop: A Technical Study of Materials and Working Methods,” pp. 128-151. Lucca, Mauro and Villa, Giovanni Carlo Federico, Giovanni Bellini, Scuderie del Quirinale Roma, SilvanaEditoriale, Milano, 2008. Related photographs, especially the Thyssen-Bornemisza painting, p. 297. Newman, Richard, Analytical Report for the Yager Museum’s Madonna of the Meadow. Cross-sectional analysis, comparative spectra, individual pigment findings, discussions, photos, conclusions, and endnotes. 19 p.

The author thanks Donna Anderson, Coordinator of the Yager Museum of Culture and Art, and K. Michelle Hearne Arthur, Ph.D., consultant to the Yager Museum for their time and assistance; a special thanks to Richard Newman, Head of Scientific Research at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for his comprehensive analytical report, and to The Greater Hudson Heritage Network for supporting the project.

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Feature

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Jasper Cropsey’s Autumn Idyll

I

n 1968, the University of Maryland Art Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition of forty-seven paintings and prints by Jasper F. Cropsey, in which the Hudson River School artist was appointed “America’s painter of autumn.” The title was apt. During the second half of Cropsey’s career, from his mid-forties till his death at age seventy-seven, fall landscapes were, with few exceptions, the sole creations to come off his brush. He had produced no small number of autumnal paintings as a younger man as well. One might ask why Cropsey (1823-1900) was so singularly devoted to this motif, but it’s hardly necessary. It is not difficult to imagine a sensibility as reverent toward nature as the Hudson River School finding in autumn the perfect allegory of moral beauty entwined with sublime melancholy. Cropsey embodied everything the Hudson River School stood for: like Thomas Cole, he exploited the allegorical potential of the America wilderness, and like Asher B. Durand, was equally devoted to a precise realism that exalted nature for its own sake. As American landscapes go, there are few more luminous subjects than the region around the Hudson River in October. The 1877 Head of the Lake is typical of Cropsey’s mature style, a confident colorful American idyll, painted with a liveliness that is at once naturalistic and painterly. The painting had been in private hands since it was created, and only recently sold at auction. It arrived at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center discolored by a thick coating of varnish and decades of tobacco smoke, and did not appear to have ever been cleaned or otherwise treated. The heavy, yellowed top coat had been applied over Cropsey’s original varnish, and though it obscured the painting’s luscious chromatics, it also provided an additional protective layer that afforded head paintings conservator Thomas Branchick a rare opportunity to work with a pristine Cropsey paint surface. “Cropsey can easily be overcleaned, which means you can easily remove transparent glazes that add subtle tone and color to his work,” Branchick said. With a specially formulated solvent combination, the Jasper F. Cropsey, Head of the Lake, 1877, after conservator painstakingly removed the smoky brown treatment. Left, detail of the central section. grime to reveal what an art historian once termed Cropsey’s “outstanding merit,” his “freedom of touch [that] . . . gives life to all the objects” in his paintings. “It’s amazing to see the brushwork of the artist, and to observe how he built up the layers and glazes,” Branchick observed. “He employs really thin glazes in the water and the trees, creating an effect almost like halos around the foliage.” With the varnish removed, it is also possible to see the vigor Cropsey applied to his work, in the quick slurs and daubs of the trees, the energetic crisscross strokes of the sky, and the gestural lines that indicate movement in the water. The picture is “one of the more sensual Cropseys I’ve seen,” said Branchick, who has treated several by the artist and other Hudson River painters. Certainly it adds one more layer of confirmation to the claim that Cropsey is our premier artist of autumn.

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WACC News & Notes

Fragments of a painting yield a puzzle and a mystery

A

t the age of 8, Jenny Hersch became enthralled by the face

the attic, where she found a cache of items left behind by an

of a man she knows nothing about.

unknown owner. Among the contents were the remnants of a

In 1971, Hersch moved with her parents and siblings into a

large painting, partially attached to a length of stretcher, the rest

large 1830 Colonial house in Newton, Massachusetts. A week

lying in fragments and shards. The enigmatic expression of a

spent exploring the old manse led the girl to a crawl space in

well-dressed man looked out from one of the pieces and ignited her imagination, as did the portrait of a young boy in another fragment. Hersch took the shattered treasure with her to college, and kept it through more than thirty years and five cities. It looked like little more than a collection of brittle fabric scraps when it arrived at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, where paintings conservator Montserrat Le Mense began the slow job of reassembly. When all fourteen pieces of the fragile puzzle were back together, the picture revealed a gentleman in a flowered waistcoat and dark jacket, wearing the long cape and white wig of an aristocrat or official. In his hand, he holds an oval frame bearing the likeness of a younger man, also opulently outfitted in clothing contemporary to that of the man. About half of the original painting is missing, and rather than attempt to restore the extensive losses, the decision was made with the client for the treatment to emulate the handling of archeological artifacts, floating the extant work on a blank background the size of the original fifty-by-forty-inch canvas. The painted surfaces were consolidated for safe handling, and the painting attached to a polyester interleaf toned the same red-brown of the original ground layer. This was then adhered to a linen canvas using thermoplastic adhesive and the vacuum hot table. While the larger

Fragments of the seventeenth-century painting, loosely reassembled before treatment.

14 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012

losses in the existing image will be


left as is, selective inpainting will restore

This fainting couch from the Frederic Remington museum is from the 1880s, an

the pictorial integrity of the figures,

era when the quintessentially Victorian furnishing was at a height of popularity. It was

compensating for losses on the faces

originally upholstered in cranberry plush and at some point in the twentieth century

and bridging the fragments of the man’s

re-covered in a similar green fabric with a skirt obscuring the legs. When the green

waistcoat and cravat.

upholstery was removed, remnants of the red plush were found, allowing for a near exact

As the treatment progressed, the

match in color; the upholstery design, with its broad band of pleats and buttoning, was

mystery that surrounds the painting

recreated from a period photograph and evidence surviving on the frame. The couch is

was continually heightened. Though

constructed with a curved iron back and wood frame and legs. Only the two visible legs

technical and scholarly research remains

are decoratively carved. The original upholstery was done with jute webbing, coil springs,

to be done, certain information can be

horsehair, and burlap, all sewn and nailed to the frame. Chief furniture conservator Hugh

surmised from existing evidence. The

Glover and Jeanne Ferland, upholsterer, designed a hidden secondary plywood support

man’s costume suggests the painting

that allowed the new upholstery system, with polyethylene foam forms, synthetic curled

dates to around the 1730s. There is

hair, and the original springs, to be installed without nailing into the frame.

no obvious signature nor anything to identify either the artist or the two people portrayed, but the names “Walter” and “Scott” were found on the reverse of two contiguous fragments. The identity of this Walter Scott is impossible to ascertain, though it is almost certainly not the celebrated Scottish novelist and poet, whose dates are 1771-1832. The AngloAmerican name suggests the picture is either British or North American, but that evidence is clouded by its physical attributes. The painting was made on coarse-weave canvas with an earthy red ground, a technique more typical of Italy or France than either the British Isles or the American colonies. Then, of course, there is the obvious mystery of the dual portrait. What precisely are we being shown—what is the relationship between the man and the boy? Obviously the two are separated, or they would have been depicted together. But what separates them, time, distance, or death? Jenny Hersch says that even as a girl she felt the boy in the oval was the man’s departed son. We may never know, leaving it to the viewer to write his or her own narrative, which is perhaps the most compelling aspect of this beguiling painting.

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WACC News & Notes

Treatment Report Object

RCA Carbon Condenser Microphone Owner

FDR Library and Museum Description Black RCA model 4-A-1 microphone bearing NBC logo on three sides. Made from cast white metal, painted black. The mouth piece is various milled copper alloy disks with metal screen. Black rubber cord is cut and attached to back of pedestal with a coil metal spring. NBC announcer Carleton Smith alleged the microphone was used by President Franklin Roosevelt to make “Fireside Chats” from the White House. Made by RCA Victor in early 1930s. For obvious reasons was commonly called, “the box camera.”1 Condition Fair. The paint is worn generally over the surfaces and along the edges of the base and box. Patina is worn on edges of copper alloy components. There is staining of the paint on the sheet metal signs, and associated paint losses in the signs. Treatment 1. Lifting areas of black paint consolidated. 2. Surface dusted with soft bristle brush and cotton swabs dampened slightly with deionized water. 3. Metal spring surrounding electrical cord cleaned with stiff brush and coated with microcrystalline wax. 4. Disfiguring losses in paint layer reintegrated with surrounding surface, using acrylic paint in xylene. Note Treatment designed to stabilize the object, not restore to pristine condition. Evidence of object’s history of use is retained. 2

Microphone used by Franklin Roosevelt, after treatment. Inset, metal logo on back.

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1. Description adapted from report prepared by FDR Library and Museum. 2. The microphone will be on permanent exhibit when the FDR Library reopens after renovation in June 2013.


WACC Staff

Staff news

T‌homas Branchick Director; Conservator of Paintings/Dept. Head

Gretchen Guidess joined the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in October as Assistant Conservator for Objects & Textiles, with a specialty

Mary Catherine Betz Associate Conservator of Paintings

in textiles, hooked rugs, and upholstery. She arrived at WACC after completing a two-year Mellon Fellowship with Historic New England in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where she treated numerous types of

Thierry Boutet Assistant Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta

decorative art objects, in particular the extensive hooked rug collection. She graduated from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, completing a M.Sc. in art conservation with an emphasis on textile conservation and a concentration in preventive conservation studies. As part of her third-year curriculum, Gretchen completed internships at the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites/Peebles Island Resource Center; the Victoria & Albert Museum; and the Canadian Conservation Institute. She has also interned with Wendy Jessup & Associates, Elizabeth Lahikainen & Associates, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum, and the former Textile Conservation Center in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her treatment experience includes wallpaper, chandeliers, flags from the War of 1812, religious textiles, quilts, samplers, costumes, and historic interiors.  Christine Puza will join WACC in January 2013 as Assistant Conservator of Furniture and Frames. She graduated from the Buffalo State University Program in Art Conservation in 2012 with a concentration in Objects after completing her third-year internship at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. In addition, she has interned at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Diyarbakir Museum, and in the private practices of Marianne Webb and Simon Moore. She holds a B.Sci. in biological science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and spent five years working in basic science research at the Physiology Department at the Medical College of Wisconsin before coming to conservation. Christine maintains a strong interest in Asian and European lacquers and has participated in the Recent Advances in the Identification of Asian Lacquers workshop held at the Getty, as well as the 2012 Workshop for the Conservation and Restoration of urushi lacquer-ware sponsored by the Japanese National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. Laura Downey Staneff arrives in January as a paper conservator with a specialty in photographs. She graduated from the Art Conservation Department at the State University College at Buffalo in 1994, majoring in paper conservation after completing her third-year internship at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She worked for three years as Assistant Paper Conservator at the Balboa Art Conservation Center, a regional art conservation center in San Diego. While there, she pursued specialization in photograph conservation through classes with Gary Albright and work engagements with other practicing photograph conservators. Laura participated in the Mellon Collaborative Workshops in Photograph Conservation and earned a second masters degree in Art History (History of Photography) at the University of Arizona, where she served as Ansel Adams Intern at the Center for Creative Photography. She was a Mellon Fellow in the first cycle of the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation at the George Eastman House. Laura arrives from Denver, where she ran a private practice, Silverpoint Art Conservation, LLC, for ten years.

John Conzett Office Manager Kristan Goolsby Office Assistant/Atlanta Hélène Gillette-Woodard Conservator of Objects/ Dept. Head Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects/Dept. Head Gretchen Guidess Assistant Conservator for Objects & Textiles Matthew Hamilton Photography Technician Teresa Haskins Accounts Manager Rebecca Johnston Conservator of Paper Henry Klein Conservation Technician Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings Cynthia Luk Conservator of Paintings; International Projects Leslie Paisley Conservator of Paper/Dept. Head Christine Romano Office Assistant/ Technician Michelle Savant Associate Conservator of Objects/Atlanta Larry Shutts Associate Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta Sandra L. Webber Conservator of Paintings

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 17


Report from Atlanta

Unseen for centuries, a rare Benjamin West returns Until recently, Arethusa, Benjamin West’s 1802 painting of the

while bathing, captures the attention of the river god Alpheus.

Greek mythological figure, has been known only through copies.

Infatuated, Alpheus pursues her relentlessly until the reluctant

This rare canvas shows a very different side of the eighteenth-

Arethusa is transformed into a sacred fountain.

century Anglo-American history painter. In private hands for

Although the work is unsigned, it retains the precise

centuries, this is the original version West exhibited at the Royal

measurements recorded for the original. The unlined canvas

Academy in London shortly after its completion. The exhibition

and stretcher are original to each other and period-appropriate,

listing indicates the title of the painting as well as its source,

offering physical evidence to suggest it was painted during

Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The myth is of a young nymph who,

West’s time. Its condition upon arrival at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center was good. Areas of past cleaning were evident in the brightened central figure, but the background was untouched, with much of the original varnish underlying a more recently applied natural resin coating. Under ultraviolet examination, a few areas of inpainting are visible, though the painting remained largely in its original state. A minor, barely visible puncture in the lower center was the only element needing immediate repair. Larry Shutts, head paintings conservator at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, determined that the best treatment was to keep the existing finish and inpainting materials and merely improve on them. Loose paint in the area of the puncture was consolidated with gelatin and the canvas mended using a polymer fill backed with Japanese tissue. Accumulated dirt and grime were removed and the existing inpainting was further refined. The present varnish, though slightly yellowed, was in good condition and did not require removal, only refreshing with a light spray application of new varnish. The painting is the High Museum of Art’s first by this important American artist. It hangs in the Atlanta museum alongside works by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and other West contemporaries. This article adapted from text courtesy the High Museum of Art.

Benjamin West, Arethusa, 1802, after treatment. 18 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012


Tech Notes, Spring 2012

Up Close and Illuminated: Artist’s Methods and Materials in the Manton Collection1 By Leslie Paisley Chief Paper Conservator Editor’s Note: The Manton Collection of British Art at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute includes more than two hundred paintings, drawings, and prints by Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, Blake, and others, and was the creation of businessman and arts patron Sir Edwin A. G. Manton (1909–2005) and his wife, Florence, Lady Manton (1911–2003). The collection, a gift from the Manton Foundation in 2007, constitutes the most significant acquisition of art by the Clark since its founding in 1955 and complements the Institute’s extensive holdings of nineteenth-century French and American art. In 2010, Leslie Paisley, head of paper conservation at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, performed a technical survey of the drawings in the Manton Collection, and with third-year intern Mary Broadway contributed an essay on the findings to the 2012 catalog, Landscape, Innovation, and Nostalgia: The Manton Collection of British Art. The essay, titled “Up Close and Illuminated: Methods and Materials in the Manton Collection,” examined the range of supports and media of the Manton works on paper, with detailed descriptions of paper composition, watermarks, charcoal, graphite, chalk, ink, and watercolor. This bulletin, excerpted and annotated with the author’s notes in brackets, illustrates some of the examination’s technical findings and casts light on the working techniques of Thomas Gainsborough.

Figure 1

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain witnessed unprecedented inventions in the production of artists’ media, inspiring a wide range of new drawing styles and techniques. Conservators at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center studied the papers, materials, and experimental techniques of works on paper in the Manton Collection, providing insights into the material history of drawing at the time.2 [In addition to determining the order of media application and identifying materials used in execution of the drawings and watercolors in the collection, the process of technical examination yielded many interesting revelations. Inspection of the papers in raking and transmitted light revealed watermarks and other details; examination under the microscope and in ultraviolet light (UVA) revealed applied coatings and subsequent repairs; and, in one case, examination under infrared light revealed an inscription that was key to attributing a work. Examples of these findings are illustrated here in Figures 1 and 7. For a complete description of examination techniques and results, with illustrations, please see the catalog.] Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  19


Tech Notes, Spring 2012

Fig. 1 (previous page): Thomas Gainsborough, detail of Rocky Wooded Landscape with Herdsman Driving Cattle along a Valley and Distant Mountains, c. 1783. Examination in transmitted light reveals fiber distribution, paper thickness, and evidence of the mold the paper was formed on. The “LVG” watermark was copied by rival papermakers to impart a sign of quality to their papers.

Fig 2: Thomas Gainsborough, Landscape with Herdsman Driving Cows and Distant Buildings, mid- to late 1780s.

20 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012

The diversity of works in the Manton Collection demonstrates the wide range of experimentation and possibilities in the medium of watercolor that emerged during the second half of the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century. [A group of drawings by Thomas Gainsborough provided an opportunity to study in greater detail his working techniques, especially his use of coatings and fixatives.] Fixatives and varnishes were necessary to ensure the stability of the work or to alter its appearance. The term “fixative” refers to a dilute liquid substance generally sprayed or dipped to adhere powdery pigment particles to paper, while “varnish” indicates a natural resin finish, often applied by brush, imparting a gloss. They were added during execution to protect the media from smudging, as well as upon completion to more closely approximate the varnished look of oil paintings. While several watercolors in the Manton Collection contain coatings applied over the watercolor washes, the nineteen Gainsborough drawings in the Clark’s collection provide the largest, most intriguing group for study. Gainsborough considered the fixative process central to the final appearance of his pictures, and used an innovative method, particularly in his application of coatings in layers. The drawings fall into two groups: those with a matte surface, executed in either graphite or black-and-white chalks [with an applied fixative][Fig. 2]; and more fully realized drawings with added watercolor and a glossy varnish [Figs. 3 and 4]. In a letter to his friend William Jackson, Gainsborough imparted his “secret” method of making a drawing look like a painting: Make the black & white of your drawing, the Effect I mean, & disposition in rough, Indian Ink shadows & lights of Bristol [referring to white lead chunks produced in Bristol as opposed to London] . . . when you see your Effect, dip it all over in skim’d milk . . . correct your Effects with Indian Ink . . . dip again. . . . Then tinge in your greens, your browns with sap green & Bistre, your yellows with Gall stone & blues with fine Indigo . . . when this is done, float it all over with Gum water . . . let that dry & varnish it 3 times with spirit varnish such as I sent you; tho only Mastic & Venice Turpentine is sufficient. . . .3 In an effort to better understand the layered structure of Gainsborough’s more complex, coated watercolors, initial research and analysis was carried out at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center on a group of four varnished drawings. They fit the criteria of the study not only because they appear to have been executed with similar materials and methods, but because they all contain thickly applied white media in need of consolidation, which provided open sample sites. The drawings were divided into pairs. One pair was acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark in the


1910s, the second was part of the Manton bequest. At first glance, it was clear that the first [Clark] pair, Herdsman and Cattle and Landscape with a View over a Distant Plain [Figs. 5 and 6], were significantly less yellowed than the second [Manton] pair, Landscape with Figures, Herdsman and Cattle at a Pool, and Distant Church and Wooded Landscape with Figures and Winding Track Leading to a Cottage [Figs. 3 and 4]. Examination of the paper, media, and coatings confirmed much of Gainsborough’s description of his working technique.4 The artist in all four cases selected a fine quality, laid, linen-and-hempfiber writing paper, sized with gelatin. Gainsborough used graphite for the preliminary underdrawing, charcoal for linear detail, and stumped or smudged portions of the charcoal with a tool to infer the darkest darks and midtones. At this point, he brushed a plant-based gum, such as gum arabic, gum tragacanth, or almond gum, on the drawing, and then dipped it in skimmed milk depending on the friability of the media. This initial fixative held the charcoal in place and prevented it from sullying the white highlights, which were applied next. When working in dry media, Gainsborough preferred an opaque dry lead- or calcium-based white chalk, which he referred to as Bristol after its place of origin. In cases where dry and wet media were combined, Gainsborough applied the whites thickly; in some instances he may have done so directly from a tube of paint.

Fig. 3 (top left): Thomas Gainsborough, Landscape with Figures, Herdsman and Cattle at a Pool, and Distant Church, midto late 1780s. Fig. 4 (top right): Thomas Gainsborough, Wooded Landscape with Figures and Winding Track Leading to a Cottage, midto late 1780s. Fig. 5 (above left): Thomas Gainsborough, Herdsman and Cattle, 1770–80. Fig. 6 (above right): Thomas Gainsborough, Landscape with a View over a Distant Plain, c. 1775.

Williamstown Art Conservation Center  |  21


Fig. 7: Thomas Gainsborough, detail of Wooded Landscape with Figures and Winding Track Leading to a Cottage, mid- to late 1780s, as viewed under ultraviolet light (UVA). The top and bottom right corners each exhibit a curved area of little to no fluorescence. This indicates that one or more artistapplied coatings are absent from these areas, possibly where the paper was held or clipped while dipping.

Once laid in, the highlights needed to be fixed to preserve their opacity and vibrant, fluffy quality. This fixative was likely the skimmed milk to which he referred in his letter. Preliminary cross-section analysis using fluorochrome dyes and visual evidence support this supposition. Using milk as a binder provided a film of natural fixative that would have been relatively tough and almost transparent once dry. For its application, Gainsborough preferred dipping, evidence of which became apparent when the drawings were viewed under ultraviolet light (UVA), showing areas the approximate size of a person’s thumb [Fig. 7], which likely indicate where the artist held the sheet of paper as it was gently submerged. Following the milk fixative, Gainsborough laid in any colored washes, first the yellows, browns, greens, and blues, then ending with reds and oranges, which were often vermilion based. This structure is confirmed by other drawings, in which the pigment can be seen applied on top of white, and in which the lead-white highlights are protected by a skim milk coating. Once the composition and colors were in place, the decision to varnish the drawings to make them look more like oil paintings was presumably made based on the quality of the work and its intended status and audience. For the varnish, Gainsborough preferred mastic resin and Venice turpentine, which could be brushed over the surface of the drawing. Often, more than one coat was used, producing an effect like an oil painting. Over time this natural resin varnish has yellowed and developed a fine crackle pattern, more so on the two works that received more light exposure. Future analysis on these coatings may help determine the exact composition and placement of the coating layers. A true microcosm of British drawings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, works from the Manton Collection will continue to excite further research and examination over time. As paper conservator Marjorie Shelley observed about her conversations with Sir Edwin: “What I remember about him most of all was his enthusiasm for works of art . . . and his curiosity about the materials and techniques. . . . He was a truly unique [collector] in that regard. . . .”5 How fitting then that we include a consideration of process and materials with this catalog. The mysteries these sheets have to reveal will continue in Williamstown and beyond. 1 Excerpted from Clarke, Jay A., ed., Landscape, Innovation, and Nostalgia: The Manton Collection of British Art (Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2012). 2 Susannah Blair, Research Assistant, Department of Drawings, Getty, and Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, contributed significantly to this essay. The authors are grateful for their suggestions and additions during the editorial process. 3 Thomas Gainsborough to William Jackson, 1773, in Mary Woodall, ed., The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1961), 177–79. 4 Research project on varnished Gainsborough drawings, on file at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. 5 Marjorie Shelley, interview with Jay A. Clarke, October 2011. Brackets in this final paragraph are original to essay as published.

22 | Art Conservator | Fall 2012


Members of the Consortium

Williamstown

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,

Roland Gibson Gallery, State

Art Conservation Center

Cornell University

University of New York

227 South Street, Williamstown, MA 01267

—Ithaca, NY Historic Deerfield, Inc. —Deerfield, MA Hood Museum of Art,

Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy —Andover, MA Albany Institute of History & Art —Albany, NY Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection —Chazy, NY

Dartmouth College —Hanover, NH T‌he Hyde Collection —Glens Falls, NY T‌he Lawrenceville School —Lawrenceville, NJ Mead Art Museum,

T‌he Arkell Museum

Amherst College

—Canajoharie, NY

—Amherst, MA

Arnot Art Museum —Elmira, NY Art Complex Museum —Duxbury, MA Bennington Museum —Bennington, VT Berkshire Museum —Pittsfield, MA Bowdoin College Museum of Art —Brunswick, ME Charles P. Russell Gallery, Deerfield Academy —Deerfield, MA

Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester —Rochester, NY Middlebury College Museum of Art —Middlebury, VT Mount Holyoke College Art Museum —South Hadley, MA

—Hartford, CT T‌he Daura Gallery at Lynchburg College —Lynchburg, VA Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art —Amherst, MA Farnesworth Art Museum —Rockland, ME Fort Ticonderoga —Ticonderoga, NY

—Purchase, NY

—Clayton, GA

Association

and related conservation services

—Springfield, MA

for member institutions, and for

Sterling and Francine Clark Art

other nonprofit organizations,

Institute

corporations and individuals; to

—Williamstown, MA Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris Foundation

conduct educational programs with respect to the care and conservation of works of art and objects of

—Lenox, MA

cultural interest; to participate in the

Union College

training of conservators; to promote

—Schenectady, NY

the importance of conservation

Vermont Historical Society

and increase the awareness of the

—Montpelier, VT Williams College Museum of Art —Williamstown, MA

issues pertinent to collections care; and to conduct research and dis-

Atlanta Art Conservation Center 6000 Peachtree Road Atlanta, GA 30341

New Hampshire Historical Society —Concord, NH New York State Office of General Services, Empire State Plaza Art Collection —Albany, NY Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge —Stockbridge, MA Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University —Hamilton, NY Portland Museum of Art —Portland, ME County

Gershon Benjamin Foundation,

examination, treatment, consultation

—Hartford, CT Neuberger Museum,

Vassar College

—Ogdensburg, NY

of our cultural heritage; to provide

—Northampton, MA Springfield Library and Museums

—Utica, NY

Preservation Society of Newport

—Poughkeepsie, NY

Smith College Museum of Art,

Museum of Connecticut History

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center,

Frederic Remington Art Museum

conserve and maintain the objects

seminate knowledge to advance the

Purchase College, State University

Connecticut Historical Society

nonprofit institution, is to protect,

—St. Johnsbury, VT

profession.

of New York

—Waterville, ME

St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

‌he mission of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a

Munson Williams Proctor Arts

Manchester Historical Society Colby College Museum of Art

T

—Potsdam, NY

Institute

T‌he Cheney Homestead of the —Manchester, CT

Mission Statement

—Newport, RI Rhode Island School of Design

Alabama Historical Commission —Montgomery, AL Booth Western Art Museum —Cartersville, GA Brenau University —Gainesville, GA Columbia Museum of Art —Columbia, SC T‌he Columbus Museum —Columbus, GA High Museum of Art —Atlanta, GA Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts —Montgomery, AL Telfair Museum of Art —Savannah, GA

Museum of Art —Providence, RI T‌he Rockwell Museum of Western Art —Corning, NY

Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 23


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Art Conservator | Volume 7 No. 2  

Art Conservator | Volume 7 No. 2