What Lies Beneath

(Left) Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room, 1901, Oil on canvas 19 7/8 x 24 1/4 in.; 50.4825 x 61.595 cm. Acquired 1927. (Right) Infrared of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901). The Phillips Collection, copyright 2008.

(Left) Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room, 1901, Oil on canvas 19 7/8 x 24 1/4 in.; 50.4825 x 61.595 cm. Acquired 1927. (Right) Infrared of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901). The Phillips Collection,  copyright 2008.

Perhaps you’ve heard our big news of the day: thanks to the skillful work and research of Patricia Favero and colleagues at fellow institutions, a portrait of a man has been identified under Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901) through the use of imaging technology. We’re really proud of Patti’s discovery!

This is not the first time one of our excellent conservators has made a newsworthy discovery. Just one example is chief conservator Elizabeth Steele’s and then-intern Gillian Cook’s finding of an entirely complete canvas beneath Gifford Beal’s painting, Parade of Elephants (1924) back in 1999. The uncovered work, On the Hudson at Newburg (1918), has gone on to become a most beloved part of our collection.

Two paintings by Gifford Beal that, at one time, shared a stretcher. (Left) On the Hudson at Newburgh, 1918, Oil on canvas 36 x 58 1/2 in.; 91.44 x 148.59 cm.. Estate of Gifford Beal, courtesy of Kraushaar Galleries. (Right) Parade of Elephants, 1924, Oil on canvas 36 1/8 x 58 5/8 in.; 91.7575 x 148.9075 cm.. Acquired 1924.

Two paintings by Gifford Beal that, at one time, shared a stretcher. (Left) On the Hudson at Newburgh, 1918, Oil on canvas 36 x 58 1/2 in.; 91.44 x 148.59 cm.. Estate of Gifford Beal, courtesy of Kraushaar Galleries. (Right) Parade of Elephants, 1924, Oil on canvas 36 1/8 x 58 5/8 in.; 91.7575 x 148.9075 cm.. Acquired 1924.

Conservation Gets Ready for Made in the USA

Conservators at The Phillips Collection have been getting ready for Made In The USA, the exhibition celebrating the return of the collection’s American masterworks after almost five years on tour. A few works that did not go on tour but will be featured at the Phillips this spring and summer have recently received attention to treat structural issues such as canvas distortions and insecure paint. In addition, all of the works required cleaning to remove dulling layers of surface grime.

Setting down raised cracks and consolidating insecure paint on "No. 9" by Bradley Walker Tomlin. Top: The painting is raised on blocks and a suction apparatus is placed behind the canvas to aid in consolidation and drying. Bottom: Adhesive is wicked into the paint cracks using a small brush. Suction from the reverse helps pull the adhesive into the cracks as well as to pull lifting paint into plane as the adhesive dries.

Setting down raised cracks and consolidating insecure paint on “No. 9″ (1952) by Bradley Walker Tomlin.
Top: The painting is raised on blocks and a suction apparatus is placed behind the canvas to aid in consolidation and drying.
Bottom: Adhesive is wicked into the paint cracks using a small brush. Suction from the reverse helps pull the adhesive into the cracks as well as to pull lifting paint into plane as the adhesive dries.

FieneStructural

Structural treatment to reduce canvas distortions in “Fall of Old Houses” (undated) by Ernest Fiene.
Top left: The painting is carefully removed from the stretcher and the folded over edges are flattened using controlled moisture and gentle heat from a heated spatula.
Top Right: Strips of linen canvas are prepared.
Bottom: With the painting off its stretcher and laying face-down on the table, strips of linen canvas are attached to reinforce the tacking edges. The painting will be placed in a work stretcher so that all of the canvas is accessible, and the distortions will be relaxed and reduced using controlled humidification and suction.

P1010310

Using a soft sponge to remove grime from the surface of “Gray Buildings” (1925) by Niles Spencer.

frameretouching

Watercolors are used to retouch minor losses on the frame for “Grey Buildings” by Niles Spencer.

P1010308

Removing dark grey grime from the unvarnished surface of “Catalpa in Bloom” (undated) by Anne Goldthwaite.

After cleaning, applying wax to the surface of "Ancestor" (1958), by Seymour Lipton.

After cleaning, applying wax to the surface of “Ancestor” (1958), by Seymour Lipton.

Other works treated for the touring exhibition in the past five years include:

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square (1957)

Milton Avery, Black Sea (1959)

Alexander Calder,  Red Polygons (ca. 1950)

Stuart Davis, Eggbeater No. 4 (1928)William Gropper, Minorities (1938 or 1939)

Marsden Hartley, Off the Banks at Night (1942)

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (between 1845 and 1846)

Stefan Hirsch, Mill Town (ca. 1925)

Karl Knaths, Deer in Sunset  (1946)

Walt Kuhn, Plumes (1931)

Seymour Lipton, Ancestor (1958)

Loren MacIver, New York (1952)

Peppino Mangravite, Political Exiles (ca. 1928)

Grandma Moses, Hoosick Falls in Winter (1944)

Alfonso Ossorio, Mother and Child (1951)

Theodoros Stamos, Sacrifice of Kronos (1948)

Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8 (1952)

Jack Tworkov, Highland (1959)

Happy Birthday Honoré Daumier

Honoré Daumier was born this day, 26 February, in 1808. Here is a look at a technical study undertaken by painting conservator Elizabeth Steele in 1999 of his small oil painting on a wooden panel, The Strongman, ca. 1865.

Honoré Daumier, "The Strongman", c. 1865, oil on wood panel, 10-5/8" x 13-7/8", Acquired 1928

Honoré Daumier, The Strongman, ca. 1865. Oil on wood panel, 10 5/8 x 13 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1928

The x-radiograph of "The Strongman" attests to Daumier's frequent custom of reworking a composition. A completely different figure wearing a striped jacket and a bicorne (two-cornered hat) lies beneath the man on the far right. In an earlier state, the curtain in the center of the painting was draped lower across the doorway. The bright white in the left half of the x-radiograph indicates the density of the paint in this area and reflects the number of times these passages were reworked. The heads of some of the figures in the background appear to have been shifted and the clown may have originally looked back towards the strongman instead of out at the viewer. By contrast, the dark torso of the strongman indicates little to no reworking of the painting's main character.

The x-radiograph of The Strongman attests to Daumier’s frequent custom of reworking a composition. A completely different figure wearing a striped jacket and a bicorne (two-cornered hat) lies beneath the man on the far right. In an earlier state, the curtain in the center of the painting was draped lower across the doorway. The bright white in the left half of the x-radiograph indicates the density of the paint in this area and reflects the number of times these passages were reworked. The heads of some of the figures in the background appear to have been shifted and the clown may have originally looked back towards the strongman instead of out at the viewer. By contrast, the dark torso of the strongman indicates little to no reworking of the painting’s main character.

The painting's strongly textured and deeply cracked surface reflects Daumier's practice of painting one layer on top of the next without allowing for the underlying paint applications to fully dry. A microscopic paint cross-section taken from the upper left reveals no less than eight distinct layers in this heavily-reworked picture. The bottom layer is the white ground (1), followed by a thin red (2), a white (3), a dark brown (4), a thin light brown (5), a thicker red (6), another dark brown (7), and finally an ochre-colored layer at the top. In addition, beeswax was discovered in some passages.  The beeswax may have served as an isolating layer between paint applications when chanbes to the composition were being made. This unorthodox technique of using a non-drying wax, a material readily available in Daumier's studio for printmaking, may also account for the wrinkled appearance of the paint film.

The painting’s strongly textured and deeply cracked surface reflects Daumier’s practice of painting one layer on top of the next without allowing for the underlying paint applications to fully dry. A microscopic paint cross-section taken from the upper left reveals no less than eight distinct layers in this heavily-reworked picture. The bottom layer is the white ground (1), followed by a thin red (2), a white (3), a dark brown (4), a thin light brown (5), a thicker red (6), another dark brown (7), and finally an ochre-colored layer at the top (8). In addition, beeswax was discovered in some passages. The beeswax may have served as an isolating layer between paint applications when changes to the composition were being made. This unorthodox technique of using a non-drying wax, a material readily available in Daumier’s studio for printmaking, may also account for the wrinkled appearance of the paint film.