39th Annual Meeting – Joint Paintings/Research and Technical Studies Session, June 3, “Raman Revealed: A Shared Internet Resource for the Cultural Heritage Community” by Suzanne Quillen Lomax

Suzanne Lomax presented on IRUG’s (Infrared and Raman Users Group) latest efforts to distribute data for Raman spectra.  She began the talk with a brief discussion on the history and mission of IRUG and their new initiative to create a Raman spectra database due in large part to a $239,650 two-year IMLS grant awarded to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in partnership with IRUG.    The 118 institutional members will contribute to the database which will be used by individuals, scientists, conservators, and students to study cultural heritage.  The Raman database will be maintained on their website.  IRUG has biennial conferences and their website www.irug.org contains information on grant funding and the conferences.  All of the coauthors for this paper are board members of IRUG.

Suzanne described the model for the database and compared it to the widely used infrared database.  By 2009, the IR database was 100% digitalized, available on CD, and in two print volumes.  The latest edition contains over 2,000 infrared spectra. On the current IRUG website, members are able to search terms and match by keyword resulting in a hit list for searched components.  The resulting spectra provide in their file name link the mode of collection and where it was collected.  The largest represented group in the IR database is organic dyes and pigments followed by mineral pigments.  Raman spectra are currently being collected and added to the database.

Suzanne also stressed the growing use of IR and Raman data use in the field and how this is being reflected in papers at IRUG conferences specifically related to art and archaeology.  She provided examples in which mineral pigments as well as synthetic organic pigments have been identified though used of the database and how Surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) can be used to overcome the problems of fluorescence by using nanoparticles to magnify the signal.

Objectives of the IRUG database will include a website interface with the ability to upload data by users, software, a translator to transform native data into IRUG standard, a searchable library, an interface for keyword searches, data download, and spectra printing.

Suzanne is chair of the newly formed Raman review committee, which reviews spectra and format.  The format to be used by IRUG is JCAMP-DX (ASCII) files for universal access.  This will also allow batching of spectra for submission.  To learn more about the format refer to the IRUG website.

The first batch of spectra has been pledged but the invitation is open to new contributors.  Interested people should contact Suzanne or Beth Price, the project manager from the PMA.  Currently users cannot upload data but can do searches on the website.

A comment after the talk reminded the audience that it is a free database though users need to contribute 10 spectra to get access to the searchable version.

39th Annual Meeting, Painting Session, June 2, “Choices Post-Mortem in Joan Mitchell’s Work” by Mary Gridley, Cranmer Art Group, LLC

Regardless of your approach, the cropping of a previously unstretched Joan Mitchell painting is not for the fainthearted. Decisions are best made by consensus. In this case, decisions about where to crop were made by a team of two owners, their dealer, and three conservators.

This anecdotal and informative talk was based partly on interviews with two art dealers, John Cheim who represents the Foundation that bears Mitchell’s name, and Jill Weinberg who represents her heirs. Both dealers knew the artist personally and have adhered to somewhat different approaches in the cropping of her pictures over the years. Add to this the myriad number of well-meaning people, from assistants to friends, framers, conservators and other dealers, who have been making this important aesthetic decision, and it becomes apparent that some clarification is needed.

Mitchell’s early works from the 1950’s and early 60’s were painted on pre-primed unstretched canvas cut from rolls and stapled directly to the artist’s studio walls. The paintings were attached to stretchers prior to exhibition, however numerous unsold paintings from this period were discovered in the artist’s basement studio after her death. The paintings had been tightly rolled face in, in bunches of 3-8, and then shoved into cardboard boxes. Cranmer Art Group was called on to mount several previously unstretched paintings in preparation for a recent exhibition.

Mary identified three factors needed for making decisions about cropping:

“Look,” essentially connoisseurship, takes the artist’s technique and signature imagery into account. Mitchell’s early affinity with DeKooning and Gorky was noted. Her early landscape-based abstractions were painted right up to the edge, but by 1956, Mitchell was experimenting with figure/ground relationship, and began “whiting out” brushstrokes and utilizing bare canvas around the edges of her work. There is less white out and more exposed ground in the early 1960’s. This trend was not consistent, however there was an ongoing tension at the edges of the paintings. One or more arcing brush strokes at the top of the paintings are a signature element corresponding to the reach of the artist’s arm, and drips are visible along the bottom edges of the works.

“Evidence” can be found in empirical information such as catalogs and photographs, however edges of the paintings sometimes get cropped in the process of publishing. Mitchell often left decisions about cropping to others, but we know that she signed her work at the request of friends or dealers, and so her signature indicates that cropping was done with the artist’s approval.

“Judgement” appears to include two fully sustainable approaches toward cropping. The approach favored by Mitchell’s Gallery, Cheim and Read, maximizes dimensions of previously unstretched paintings, including fingermarks and incidents around the edges. Mitchell’s heirs and Jill Weinberg tend toward a cropping that is closer to brush strokes with less white border. This lends the work a more charged feeling, but could add constraints in the future.

Mary’s talk was peppered with some great photos of the artist, along with plenty of before and afters.

Daisy Craddock

Craddock Painting Conservation


39th Annual Meeting – Joint Paintings/Research and Technical Studies Session, Friday June 3, “Microclimate and Anoxic Frames” by Judith Bannerman

Judith Bannerman and a team of researchers at the Tate, London have been developing microclimate frames to reduce fading and preserve sensitive works of art, particularly photographs and works on paper.  While we know that light fades materials and low-oxygen environments can reduce this phenomenon, the research team set out to design a functional microclimate frame and then measure the impact of various environments on sensitive works of art.

First, the microclimate frames were introduced; the frames are designed to be versatile, compact, reusable, and fit into existing installations and frames.  Following a conference at the Tate in September, 2011, the frames should be commercially available through KeepSafe Microclimate Systems in 3 sizes: A1 (841 x 594 mm / 33.11″ x 23.39″), A2 (594 x 420 mm / 23.39″ x 16.54″), and A3 (420 x 297 mm / 16.54″ x 11.69″).  The frames allow for easy access to the gas valves and artwork for unframing while maintaining a good seal through a sandwich design with the use of elastomer “o” rings.  Questions were raised about the composition of the elastomer and adhesives used in the frames, and while they could not be disclosed at this point, Judith assured that more technical information would be available after the patents are finalized.

With their prototype frames, the Tate began to study the impact of various oxygen levels and relative humidities on the fading of various art materials.  Three oxygen levels were chosen: air at 21% oxygen, hypoxia at 4-6% oxygen, and anoxia at 0-1% oxygen.  Temperature and humidity (at 40% and 50% RH) were monitored inside the frames during testing, and a microfadeometer with a 0.4mm spot size was used to study the accelerated fading of various materials.  Generally, when the oxygen level was brought to 5%, the fading was halved for most materials at both 40% and 50% RH, but at 0% oxygen some materials improved slightly while others faded more.  The study determined that 5% oxygen at 40%RH was best for a work on paper with iron gall ink and a dyed basket, and 0% oxygen at 50% RH was best for the digital photographs tested.  Some composite objects, like the iron gall ink on paper, required a compromise since one set of conditions might reduce the fading of one component but increase the fading of another.  During the question period, someone mentioned that some pigments fade more rapidly in anoxic conditions, so it is important to remember that conditions should be carefully considered for each object.

Future topics of research include studying long-term display or storage in the microclimates and pressure-testing the frames.  They may also develop larger cases for objects, but at this time the three frame sizes are slated to be available in September.

39th Annual Meeting – Painting Session, June 2, “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It: Two Directions for the Conservation of an Anselm Kiefer” by Per Knutas, Chief Conservator, Cincinnati Art Museum

This fascinating talk explored some of the challenges presented by contemporary artworks that embrace physical change over time.

ICA Art Conservation was contacted after a large scale mixed media Anselm Kiefer painting was severely damaged in transport. Director Al Albano had interviewed the artist previously and was familiar with his materials, which included acrylic paint, lead, straw and two large steel objects mounted with cleats. The artist’s working methods were described as follows: paint applied to the support, then covered with hot lead and more paint, then intentional tearing and scraping, with areas of lead pulled up to reveal the paint below.

On site examination of the work revealed a 25 x 15 inch lead fragment at the bottom of the travel crate. The relatively straightforward problem of how to reattach this fragment was complicated when photo details from two previous exhibition catalogs revealed discrepancies in the area of damage. Apparently, the artist’s assistants had made emergency repairs at each venue of a traveling exhibition. Four campaigns of staples and three different colored silicone adhesives attested to the alterations. To further complicate matters, the painting’s original state was undocumented, and the owner didn’t want the artist to be contacted.

Initial repositioning of the fragment no longer corresponded to its previous placement due to a ball-like lead distortion and to previously applied red silicone adhesive. After “endless discussion about how to move forward,” three different approaches for reattachment of the lead fragment were suggested:

1.  Attempt to return the lead fragment to its original appearance by rejoining it to form an unsupported fold as seen in the earliest photo documentation. This option was considered too invasive and thought to lack structural integrity.

2. Re-attach fragment as per photo detail in the 1987 catalog. Unfortunately, the ball-like lead distortion didn’t correspond to photo documentation, and a “tube” shape that was visible in the photo detail had gone missing.

3. Flatten the lead fragment and re-attach over existing ball-like shape. This option was ruled out as too free an interpretation.

Option 2 was considered to be the most viable course of action. In subsequent treatment, the ball-shaped lead component had to be removed from the work and repositioned to allow for a more precise fit of the lead fragment. Silicone adhesive was then custom formulated for color match, tensile strength and working time by a local Ohio manufacturer.  Happily, when the ball-shaped lead was unraveled, it turned out to be the missing tube shape as seen in photo details. The lead fragment was flattened and reattached with final results far exceeding expectations. The treatment was considered to be a great success.

Daisy Craddock

Craddock Painting Conservation


39th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, June 2, 2011, “Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’s Madonna and Child in the context of Leonardo da Vinci’s Studio Practice” by Sue Ann Chui

Ms. Chui presented a truly gorgeous Renaissance painting that came from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts to the J. Paul Getty Museum for a collaborative research and conservation project. Immediately it was clear that the style was recognizable as influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. This was probably the reason for the misattribution in the 18th century and earlier. With an array of beautiful photography comparing various paintings art historically, the very convincing case was made for the current attribution to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, a student of Leonardo in his workshop in Milan at the turn of the 16th century.


Mother and Child by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio
BC: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516) Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel Szépmüvészeti Múzeum
Previous restoration of cradling
Before Conservation: Back of Panel, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum


Extensively but not expertly previously restored, Ms. Chui unraveled the condition of the panel painting layer by layer with excellent documentation from the international team that worked on this project. Each layer of discovery added further proof to Boltraffio’s authorship.


In fact, it seemed to me that the research and documentation discovery process on this painting must add to the collective knowledge on Leonardo’s techniques and teachings. Adding to that body of knowledge is always an exciting prospect. It was wonderful to see the evidence that Ms. Chui presented of the master’s hand in the manufacturing process and the design work. Specifically, I found the discussion on original fingerprints left behind in the imprimatura layers interesting, though no conclusion was insinuated that they were definitely by Leonardo.


While none of the conservation treatments were innovative, they were most interesting, well photographed and pleasantly presented. As you might expect, the quality of the conservation work resulted in maximizing the original beauty of a truly unique and beautiful image of this holy mother and child. It made for excellent technical entertainment much the way I found myself eagerly awaiting, back in the day, the arrival of the latest National Gallery Bulletin. Detailed, colorful cross sections, exceptional and easy to understand diagrams to clarify, photographic references and ties to other works of art and the fluid manner of Ms. Chui made this a 1st class presentation.


After Conservation, Mother and Child, Boltraffio
After Conservation: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum
After conservation, verso, Boltraffio
After Conservation: Checkerboard pattern "stains" from removed cradling, note interesting support system, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum


If you missed this presentation, then I’m sorry but it is impossible to do the material presented justice in this blog post. We can only hope that Ms. Chui publishes her material accompanied by all of the slides of her powerpoint (doubtful). Visually, it’s a great presentation but, in addition, the info needs to be searchable and referenced by others.


Contact Ms. Sue Ann Chui at schui@getty.edu and (310) 440 7023


Express yourself and reach out: “Like” this article by clicking on the thumbs up below, refer this posting to others you connect with via Facebook, Twitter etc.


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438



39th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, June 2, 2011, “A Neoclassical Mystery: The Technical Study and Treatment of an Iconic French Portrait” by Kristin deGhetaldi

There were three very interesting aspects of this presentation if you love the quality of high society French painting between 1775 – 1825… or there abouts:


First, Kristin gave a very nice art historical review of Jacques Louis David’s studio culture and influence, which included more than 400 students that studied directly with the master. She gave some really interesting comparisons between the styles of some of the students and David but ended up focusing on the work of a female student, Marie Benoist.


Second, Kristin focused on Marie Benoist as she presented the very interesting technical and historical study of a very intriguing “iconic” female portrait that was previously misattributed/unattributed and is logically attributable to Benoist, according to deGhetaldi’s research. Actually, I personally liked the portrait better than the David and other portraits that were shown for it’s interesting positioning and thoughtful mood. Flat out, it’s a great picture.


Third, the thorough conservation treatments of the portrait were interesting but not unusual. At the beginning of Kristin’s presentation of the portrait, I was hoping that she was going to let us see the differences through cleaning. I was not disappointed as the final conservation presentation and aesthetics were wonderful.

Portrait by Marie Benoist
The "Iconic French Portrait"


The plentiful photographs, of course, made Kristin’s presentation that much more enjoyable. And the thorough technical analysis with documentary microscopic studies of greens particular to that time period and location that will aid future researchers in authentication clues.


Contact Ms. Kirstin deGhetaldi at k-deghetaldi@nga.gov


Express yourself and reach out: “Like” this article by clicking on the thumbs up below, refer this posting to others you connect with via Facebook, Twitter etc.


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438