Treatment of a Braque Hidden Treasure: Part 1, Finding a Signature

Print before treatment. Georges Braque, The Studio Table, 1923, Color aquatint on paper 23 x 8 1/2 in.; 58.42 x 21.59 cm.. Acquisition date unknown.

Print before treatment. Georges Braque, The Studio Table, 1923, Color aquatint on paper 23 x 8 1/2 in.; 58.42 x 21.59 cm.. Acquisition date unknown.

This etching and aquatint, The Studio Table (1923), was done on RIVES BFK paper by Jacques Villon, a significant printmaker during the early 20th century, in collaboration with Georges Braque. In 1922, the Bernheim Jeune dealers and publishers asked Villon to create a series of 40 intaglio plates after modern artists’ works. This print was the 4th pull in an edition of 200 made in 1923 after Georges Braque’s painting Guitar and Still Life on a Guéridon (1922) in the collection of the Met.

Villon used very advanced and complicated techniques to reproduce the texture and aesthetic of the paintings his prints represented. It appears that three plates with a total of seven different colors of ink were used; the registration holes that kept these plates lined up during printing are visible below. Two different techniques were used to create this work. One was etching, a process where a copper plate is covered with wax and then scratched into using an etching needle and bathed in acid to bite into these lines. Villon also used aquatint, a process where a layer of acid resistant particles is spread across the surface of the copper plate as the ground. The artist will use a stop-out varnish to allow the acid to bite around the particles for different lengths of time to create darker or lighter toned areas. A unique tool called a rocker was used to create the dashed line texture, which can be seen in the details below. Click on the thumbnails below to see details of the print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a significant layer of adhesive that obscured the margins of the print. Using infrared imaging, we were able to see through the adhesive that both Villon and Braque signed the bottom of this print. In other editions, both artists did not sign the print, making the Phillips’ work particularly significant. The decision was made to remove the adhesive to show these signatures using a series of controlled steps that can be seen in more detail in the following posts. Read part two tomorrow…

Caroline Hoover, Conservation Assistant

Detail illustrating excess adhesive in the margin.

Detail illustrating excess adhesive in the margin.

Signatures of Braque, left and Villon, right.

Signatures of Braque, left and Villon, right.

 

Spotlight on Studio, Quai Saint-Michel

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940

Weekday Spotlight Talks at the Phillips are an ideal way to spend some quality time with a particular work in the permanent collection and can often lead to new insights into composition, materials, and the artist’s intentions. Last month, our Teacher Programs Coordinator Meagan Estep led a small group of visitors in discussion about Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916), currently on view on the second floor of the Goh Annex.

Meagan began by asking about the group’s initial impressions of the painting. Visitors were largely struck by Matisse’s use of two-dimensional shapes (particularly the flattened table) alongside three-dimensional shapes (such as the two chairs that show perspective in the room). Aside from these technical aspects of his composition, visitors also remarked on the absence of the artist in the scene. A nude model reclines on a sofa and a canvas sits upon one chair, yet the chair directly across from the canvas (where the artist would sit) is conspicuously empty. The consensus among the group was that Matisse’s composition not only depicts a reclining nude but also documents his workspace and artistic process as it is unfolding.

Upon close inspection, the group also noticed an area of cracked paint just above the reclining nude. This subtle detail is visible in person but wouldn’t necessarily be apparent in a reproduction of the work online or in print (just another example of the new discoveries that are possible when visiting artworks in person). Meagan revealed that the Phillips conservators have studied this cracked area closely and discovered that Matisse reworked this area with additional layers of paint. The cracking occurred because one of the earlier layers did not dry completely before the artist painted over it with a faster drying paint. The cracks mirror the curves of the woman’s figure, suggesting she was originally placed slightly higher in the composition. It is thought that Matisse’s lack of effort to disguise this and other changes was intentional, to allow the evolution of the composition to be part of the experience of the work. Therefore, the conservators have left it as (perhaps) Matisse intended.

Elizabeth Kachavos, Marketing Intern

A Subtle But Significant Improvement: Conserving A “Petal Painting” (Part III)

Read parts one and two of this series.

Results of Treatment

Treatment resulted in a subtle but significant improvement to the picture’s appearance. Greater contrast between the dark colors in the background and the pastel “petals” in the foreground returns a sense of vibrancy and movement to the composition. In addition, although they remain inherently fragile, consolidation left the paint layers more stable–improving the overall condition of the picture.

Number 8 seen Before Treatment, left, and After Treatment, right

No. 8 seen Before Treatment, left, and After Treatment, right

Left: The back of the painting, exposed; note the lighter color of the new stretcher keys against the darker, aged wood of the stretcher Right: The back of the painting with a protective foam-core backing.

Left: The back of the painting showing the canvas and stretcher. Right: The back of the painting with a protective foam-core backing, attached to the stretcher to add support and protect the back of the canvas from dust and blows.