Georges Rouault’s Unusual Materials

rouault_church interior side by side_AW

(Left) Georges Rouault’s painting Church Interior hangs unassumingly at the top of the stairs leading to the Music Room (Right) Georges Rouault, Church Interior, 1952, Enamel on copper, overall: 11 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Bequest of Seymour and Janet Rubin, 2003

On my way through the galleries last week, I was stopped by a painting at the top of the stairs leading to the Music Room. There, hanging unassumingly on a wall all to itself, is George Rouault’s Church Interior. What caught me was the strange texture and shape of this otherwise fairly standard painting—the work seems to bubble out from its frame like an expanding balloon. Before looking at the label, I toyed with and quickly discarded a  list of possible materials: Glass? No, too thick. Wood? Too smooth a curve. Plastic? Too undulating a surface.

Finishing my game, I gave in and looked to the placard for the answer: enamel on copper! I racked my brain for other examples of works on copper, but couldn’t come up with any. Naturally, my next step was a search of the Phillips’s collection for similar works and then, finding none, of the world at large. It turns out that copper had something of a heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries as an artistic canvas, of interest to El Greco, Rembrandt, and a slew of others.

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager

Spoke Rehab

Up-Cycled Art        As usual, Conservation was on hand to document the condition of the newest addition to the courtyard. As an added bonus, we got to chat with the artist, A. Balasubramaniam, a.k.a. Bala. While taking photos, I saw that the sculpture is made up of small rods of metal welded together. I noticed shallow threads on a few of the pieces of metal and asked Bala if he had welded nails together.

In fact, he told me, the sculpture is made of bicycle spokes. Nice! The spokes are cut up and welded together into the repeating triangle pattern that makes up the structure of the artwork. Bala said he chose bicycle spokes because they are light-weight and have some flexibility. It’s true; if you look at the base of the sculpture, you can see that the convex shape inverts and pushes inward where it rests on the flat slate pavers of the courtyard.

A detail of the cut and welded spokes. Photos: Patti Favero

Minor Repairs        The sculpture came to the Phillips from India after a long journey by truck and by sea. As we noted its condition, we found that one branch on the inside of the sculpture had snapped almost in two. A few weak spots at the base of the branch had given into metal fatigue somewhere along the way and did not survive the trip. Bala took it all in stride, and he and the Phillips’s Installations Manager, Bill Koburg, went on a fishing expedition with some copper wire and a picture hook. They snagged the branch with the picture hook and carefully pulled it up, aligning the break as well as possible. Bala and Bill then secured the broken branch in its proper position using monofilament, or fishing line (rated for 15 lbs).  I fetched some acrylic paint from the studio, which Bala used to tone the fishing line so it would be less noticeable.

Left: The break at the base Center: Bala's hand, carefully lowering the hook Right: Bala and Bill making the repair