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.

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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.

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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)

Finding a Lost Van Gogh: Technology in the Art World

two paintings of the same subject by vincent van gogh side by side

(Left) Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949 (Right) Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947

Vincent van Gogh has been popular in headlines around the world this week, after it was confirmed that a painting stowed in an attic for years is an authentic van Gogh original.

The revelation begins an interesting dialogue about the impact of science and technology on the art world. There’s no doubt it’s opened innumerable doors of opportunity as a medium, but it’s also created an opportunity for new questions to be asked. In the case of the discovered painting, technology (among other resources) helped us answer a question. Is this painting by Vincent van Gogh? Yes, we can decidedly say it is.

But in the Phillips’s upcoming exhibition Van Gogh Repetitions, science and technology may leave us with more questions than answers. We’re able to examine van Gogh’s works at a level never before known. We can tell what elements make the blues hiding inside the gap of Madame Roulin‘s sleeves vary from portrait to portrait, or how many millimeters the distance between her eyes changes, but it can’t tell us what compelled the artist to make five paintings of the same woman, or which changes he even intended to make. Were some just error? Are there more limbs on a tree in the background of the Phillips’s The Road Menders than there in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy) because it was more true to life, or because van Gogh found it more visually appealing?

As Director Dorothy Kosinski notes in this Washington Post article by Emily Yahr, art history isn’t static; “there’s so much that’s changed and continues to change, and it’s a wonderful revelation—especially to the layperson—of the importance of the work we do.”

Amy Wike, Publicity & Marketing Coordinator