Enfilade

Conservation of The Blue Boy Completed

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on March 11, 2020

Press release from The Huntington (27 February 2020) . . .

The conservator removed dirt trapped underneath the varnish (as seen on the cotton swab), which clouded the clarity of Gainsborough’s masterful brushwork (The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens).

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that the extensive 18-month initiative to analyze, conserve, and restore The Blue Boy (ca. 1770) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) is complete, and the iconic painting will go back on view Thursday, March 26, in the Thornton Portrait Gallery. With much of the process carried out in public view during the Project Blue Boy exhibition (22 September 2018 — 30 September 2019), the major undertaking involved high-tech data gathering and analysis as well as more than 500 hours of expert conservation work to remove old overpaint and varnish, repair and reattach the lining and other structural materials, and inpaint areas of loss as a result of flaking and abrasion. Now, minute shades of color, fine brushstroke textures, and nuanced details of the famous figure of a young man in a blue satin costume, as well as the landscape in which he stands, are once again legible and closer to what Gainsborough intended.

The Blue Boy has been a star of The Huntington’s collections since we opened as the first old masters museum in Los Angeles in 1928, when visitors flocked to see this magnificent work of 18th-century British portraiture,” said Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence. “Now the painting is again the center of a joyous occasion, as we celebrate the completion of a robust and thoughtful conservation project. A well-attended exhibition showcasing the conservator at work, more than 100 public talks, and the convening of experts in the field all helped to define Project Blue Boy as an ambitious and successful project with an educational focus.”

More than 217,000 people visited the Project Blue Boy exhibition. Christina O’Connell, The Huntington’s Mary Ann and John Sturgeon Senior Paintings Conservator and leader of the project, gave about 170 gallery talks, emphasizing the guidelines and code of ethics in the field of conservation as she responded to visitor questions on topics ranging from the history of the painting, to details of the technical study, to the structural elements of the work.

The conservation project involved slowly removing several uneven layers of dirt and discolored varnish with small cotton swabs to reveal Gainsborough’s original brilliant blues and other pigments. Then, with tiny brushes, the artist’s brushstrokes were reconnected across the voids of past damage as part of the inpainting process.

As O’Connell worked on the painting, she became intimately aware of Gainsborough’s every brushstroke. “It’s been an incredibly deep professional experience,” she said. “Conservation work is very much a process of discovery. I’ve not only had a view of the painting at the microscopic level, but I was also able to observe each stroke as the true colors of Gainsborough’s palette were revealed from underneath many layers of dirt and discolored varnish.” During the process, O’Connell discovered that although Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy on a recycled canvas (as revealed in earlier X-rays), he made considerable use of a complex network of paint layers and pigments to create a painting that truly showed off his skills.

“We have to remember that this painting wasn’t commissioned, but rather was produced by Gainsborough for the express purpose of showing off his prowess at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770—where it would be seen next to the work of his rivals,” said Melinda McCurdy, The Huntington’s associate curator for British art and co-curator of Project Blue Boy. “Gainsborough intended it to grab attention, and conservation work has revealed the incredible technical skill he brought to this showpiece.”

Other discoveries made over the course of the project, which was supported by a grant from Bank of America as a part of its global Arts Conservation Project, include one relating to the painting’s lining. After observation and analysis, conservators determined that the lining adhesive for The Blue Boy correlated to a historic recipe for a paste made of rye flour and ale. O’Connell enlisted the help of a food historian to recreate the paste with modern ingredients to construct a mock-up in order to observe how the materials for the lining behaved. More discoveries should be forthcoming once the copious data that was collected during the project is analyzed. Information was gathered via X-radiography, infrared reflectography, cross-section microscopy, and macro X-ray fluorescence scanning. The results of the analysis will take several more months.

Conservation was funded by a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.  Additional generous support for this project was provided by the Getty Foundation, Friends of Heritage Preservation, and Haag-Streit USA

Call for Papers | Antiquities and the Art Market in Britain and Italy

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on March 11, 2020

Postponed: It is with regret that we have decided to postpone the Antiquities, the Art Market and Collecting in Britain and Italy in the 18th Century conference at Birkbeck this year (17–18 September 2020), due to the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis. Given the current limitations on travel and the closure of university campuses, research institutions, libraries, archives and collections, as well as the obvious challenges to personal safety, the conference will not take place this year. It will instead be held on 16–17 September 2021. The Call for Papers is therefore temporarily closed. To all who have submitted abstracts so far, thank you very much for your interest; we hope that you will consider submitting an abstract again when the Call for Papers is reissued closer to the new deadline. Note added 24 March 2020.

From ArtHist.net:

Antiquities, the Art Market, and Collecting in Britain and Italy in the 18th Century
Birkbeck, University of London, 17–18 September 2020

Organized by Caroline Barron, Catharine Edwards, and Kate Retford

Proposals due by 15 April 2020

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the formation and display of country house collections of art and antiquities in Britain, and particularly those created as a result of a Grand Tour to Italy in the eighteenth century. From The English Prize at the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 and the collaboration between Houghton Hall and The Hermitage State Museum, Houghton Revisited, in 2013, to The Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection in 2018, curators and academics have sought to investigate the antiquities, paintings and collectibles that were brought to Britain in such large quantities.

However, the organisation of the art market at that time has received less attention, and far less than it deserves given its fundamental role in the processes by which objects arrived in collections at that time. New contexts for collecting have also emerged, such as the history of consumption and the economic background to the acquisition of so-called ‘luxury’ goods and prestige objects. The art market of the eighteenth century continues to play a vital role in collecting today; with so many of the objects acquired during a Grand Tour since dispersed in house sales and auctions, or bequeathed or sold to museums. The antiquities and paintings that once adorned the galleries of the cultured in Britain are also still to be found for sale, indicating the longevity of their appeal and value for collectors.

This conference seeks to explore the processes by which these collections were formed, interrogating the relationship between the Italian and British art markets of the eighteenth century, the role of the dealers in Italy, and the auction houses in Britain, through which many of the objects were later to pass, encompassing in depth discussion of the objects themselves. We invite abstracts of no more than 500 words for 30 minute papers to be submitted to the organising committee by 15th April 2020 (antiquitiesartmarketconference@gmail.com) as well as a short CV. We welcome proposals from scholars working in museums, collections, and archives, as well as from academics from across disciplines such as History, Art History, Museum Studies, and Classics. PhD students and ECRs are particularly encouraged to submit abstracts.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
• Dealers in antiquities between Rome and Britain
• Auctions and auction houses in Britain
• Object biographies of antiquities, old master paintings, modern paintings, rare books, prints, and neo-classical sculpture circulating in the 18th-century art market
• Customers and collectors in the 18th century
• Networks and communities of dealers and collectors
• The economic history of the art market
• The afterlife of collections from the 18th century to today