Conservators play a role in the reattribution of art

In “When Overlooked Art Turns Celebrity”, Michael Kimmelman uses the recent reattribution to Pieter Bruegel the Elder of the painting “The Wine of St. Martin’s Day” as a starting point for a discussion of why attributions affect people’s judgement of works of art. In his recounting of how the reattribution of this particular painting came about, Kimmelman notes the examination by conservators which provided the information about materials and techniques which enabled the painting to be linked to Breugel.

[ A detail of the painting

NYT reports on the treatment of the Dyer Library & Saco Museum’s ‘moving panorama’ by Williamstown Art Cons. Center

From the New York Times, Dec. 2, 2010:

Victorian theatergoers packed halls to watch canvases roll past. Entrepreneurs would ship paintings of exotic scenery hundreds of feet long to theaters nationwide, and stagehands, as if anticipating animated movies, would slowly reveal section after section of the “moving panoramas.” Pianists supplied uplifting music, and actors’ voice-overs explained the plot.

One of the more successful productions, “Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress,” started making the rounds in 1851. Artists as prominent as Frederic Edwin Church and Jasper Cropsey had designed the images, based on John Bunyan’s 1678 didactic Christian allegory about a family confronting angels and demons at the edges of abysses and castle walls.

Reviews of the panorama were ecstatic. In Charleston, S.C., “the pleasure of witnessing it was enlarged by the presence of about 130 of the Orphan House children, with their shining, happy faces,” a local newspaper reported.

By the 1860s, however, Bunyan’s somewhat ponderous tale of journeys through the “slough of despond” and “valley of humiliation” had gone out of fashion, and a theater owner in Maine let crates of the rolled-up muslin molder in storage. The Dyer Library and Saco Museum in Saco, Me., inherited them in 1896 and rediscovered them a century later. For the last year, restorers at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts have been working on about 800 feet of fabric stretched out in the hallway and driveway.

“Benign neglect allowed it to survive,” said Thomas Branchick, the center’s director.

The restorers sometimes wore socks to avoid leaving footprints while removing dust, creases and signs of water damage known in the trade as tide lines. Lower portions of the paintings have been left slightly scraped, as evidence of countless unrollings.

“The bottom edge would have dragged on the stage floor,” Mr. Branchick said.

Saco financed the restoration partly with a $51,940 Save America’s Treasures federal grant. The muslin will be shipped home in a few weeks. Digital photographs, taken from a camera on the ceiling, will be spliced together to create a panoramic reproduction that the museum will use in live performances.

Read more here.

Using IR and UV to examine papyri at the Brooklyn Museum

Conservators at the Brooklyn Museum are regular contributors to the museum’s blog. The most recent entry, by Pavlos Kapetanakis, project conservator of paper working on the Egyptian Book of the Dead of the Goldworker of Amun, Sobekmose, desribes how IR and UV light aid in examination and treatment.


We typically use traditional photography to record images of artifacts in the visible light spectrum; this way we record on a digital file that which the human eye can see (fig.1). However, this technique can provide only a limited amount of information, since the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is a very small portion (400-700nm) of the entire spectrum. By eliminating the visible light using barrier filters, we are able to record images that the unaided human eye could not detect. Generally, we record images in the near infrared (700 to 900 nm) as well as the ultraviolet ranges (200- 400nm).

Link to the blog by clicking here.

Book Thefts from the National Archives, UK

The National Archives have recently discovered that two early printed books appear to have been stolen from their library. In both cases the text block has been cut or pulled out of the binding and removed, leaving the empty binding on the shelf. It is thought that someone might try to get them rebound before selling them, or that someone could purchase them in the condition they are in and then seek to get them bound.

The books are:?

? LEAKE, Stephen Martin?Nummi britannici historia or, An historical account of English money, from the conquest to the uniting of the two kingdoms by King James I. and of Great Britain to the present time. With particular descriptions of each piece, and illustrated cuts of the more antient. A work hitherto unattempted … Particularly calculated for the benefit of the curious collector of English coin. ?London , W. Meadows, 1726??

PETTUS, Sir John 1613-1690, ?Fodinæ regales or, The history, laws and places of the chief mines and mineral works in England, Wales, and the English Pale in Ireland ; as also of the mint and mony, with a clavis explaining some difficult words relating to mines, &c. ?London, Printed by H.L. & R.B. for Thomas Basset

If there is any further help or advice anyone can provide please contact: ?Helen Pye-Smith?Head of Business Support and Library Services ?Tel: +44 (0)20 8392 5278?The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU ??

source: ICON Interconnect, Nov. 2010

The July 2010 experts meeting on the Ghent Altarpiece

In July 2010, a committee of experts led by Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse and Ron Spronk met in St. Bavo Catheral in Ghent, Belgium to assess the physical condition of the work of art sometimes called “The Adoration of the Lamb” but most commonly known as the Ghent Altarpiece. Peter Schjeldahl was one of the reporters who was permitted to observe the meeting. In the November 29, 2010 issue of The New Yorker in his article “The Flip Side”, he provides a report of that meeting. More than that, he provides an amazing description of the physical nature of the work and how it was created, discusses the provenance of the piece and the problems of old restorations, and writes what amounts to a mini-profile of George Bisacca’s work with panel paintings including Albrecht Durer’s “Adam” and “Eve”. The return of those same two paintings to view in the Prado after their two-year restoration is noted in the November 27, 2010 issue of The New York Times.

Conservation leads to numerous discoveries regarding painter Jan Gossart

The detailed examination during conservation treatment of several Jan Gossart paintings, in preparation for a major exhibition featuring the artist, leads to several discoveries about the paintings, the artist’s technique, and corrects the attribution of a panel that had once been attributed to Gossart’s workshop, to that of the artist himself.

This YouTube video features conservators Karen Thomas and Michael Gallagher.

Smithsonian’s Haiti Cultural Recovery Project

The January 12, 2010, earthquake decimated Haiti’s cultural institutions that housed the country’s artwork, artifacts, and archives. Learn how the Smithsonian- in partnership with American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – is helping the Haitian government assess, recover, and restore Haiti’s cultural heritage.

The WEBCAST on the Smithsonian’s Haiti Cultural Recovery Project was recorded on Tuesday, November 9, 2010.