Conservation

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Shelley Sturman, senior conservator and head of the department of object conservation, National Gallery of Art. On the 100th anniversary of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial dedication in Boston, artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ original plaster version of the bronze memorial was transferred to the National Gallery of Art for full conservation treatment. On long-term loan from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, the magisterial Shaw Memorial (1883-1900) was previously restored many times and no longer resembled the artist’s original intentions.  In this lecture recorded on January 15, 2014, conservator Shelley Sturman reveals the long process of removing the nearly 12-by-18-foot relief sculpture from a concrete block wall, radiographing the sections, repairing cracks, analyzing the materials, preparing the appropriate decorative surface, realigning segments, and designing an appropriate mounting system for display in Washington; this treatment was performed by a team of conservators from Boston, the National Park Service, and the Gallery. Installation at the Gallery marks the ninth time that the Shaw Memorial has been dismantled and reassembled. An exhibition honoring the memorial and its inspiration on 20th- and 21st-century artists titled Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial is on view through January 20, 2014.

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Daphne Barbour, senior object conservator; Melanie Gifford, research conservator; Lisha Glinsman, conservation scientist; Alison Luchs, curator of early European sculpture; and Kimberly Schenck, head of paper conservation, National Gallery of Art. FACTURE: Conservation · Science · Art History is a new biennial journal from the National Gallery of Art that introduces the latest research on works in its permanent collection. Named for “the manner in which things are made,” the journal presents essays on conservation treatment, scientific research, and technical art history. This study undertaken at the Gallery focuses on artists' methods and materials—identifying the materials used by artists, understanding the ways in which different artists handled these materials, and discerning how to preserve the qualities the artists prized. In honor of the inaugural volume, this lecture recorded on January 12, 2014, focuses on Renaissance masterworks—painting, sculpture, textiles, and works on paper—in the Gallery's collection.

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Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Nancy Anderson, curator and head of the department of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art; Lindsay Harris, research associate, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Renée Ater, associate professor of art history and director of academic programs, University of Maryland, College Park. To celebrate the exhibition opening of Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial on September 15, 2013, the curators and catalogue authors discuss the individual stories and photographic portraits of the soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, as well as those of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. On view through January 20, 2014, the exhibition considers the legacy of the 54th and the Battle of Fort Wagner in art, examining nineteenth century efforts to memorialize those who fought, including early works by African American artists Edward Bannister and Edmonia Lewis in addition to Saint-Gaudens’ development of the Shaw Memorial itself. The lecture concludes with the continuing inspiration that the 54th, its defining battle, and the Shaw Memorial have been for twentieth and twenty-first century artists as diverse as Richard Benson, Ed Hamilton, Lewis Hine, Carrie Mae Weems, and William Earle Williams.

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Tom Learner, head of modern and contemporary art research, Getty Conservation Institute, in conversation with artist De Wain Valentine. The International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art—North America (INCCA—NA), working together with the National Gallery of Art and the Getty Conservation Institution, presented From Start to Finish: The Story of “Gray Column” on July 16, 2013, at the Gallery. This 30-minute documentary recounts the remarkable story behind the making of De Wain Valentine's Gray Column, a stunning large-scale polyester sculpture. The film follows the piece from its original concept to its display at the Getty Center for Valentine's exhibition during Pacific Standard Time, the 2011 Getty initiative to celebrate the birth of the Los Angeles art scene. Following the film, Tom Learner and De Wain Valentine discuss the creation of this monumental work of art and his thoughts on approaches to its conservation. This program is part of INCCA—NA’s Voice of the Artist series.

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Liz Tunick, Kress Interpretive Fellow, National Gallery of Art; Mary Morton, curator and head of the department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art; Kimberly Jones, associate curator, National Gallery of Art; Charlie Ritchie, associate curator, National Gallery of Art; Ann Hoenigswald, senior conservator, National Gallery of Art; Wil Scott, head of adult programs, National Gallery of Art Edouard Manet's iconic painting The Railway has intrigued and perplexed viewers ever since it was first publicly exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874. The painting was given to the National Gallery of Art in 1956 and now hangs in the recently reinstalled West Building Galleries devoted to 19th-century French painting. Gallery Fellow Liz Tunick discusses the painting with National Gallery curators Mary Morton, Kimberly Jones, and Charlie Ritchie, paintings conservator Ann Hoenigswald, and educator Wil Scott. Their discussions explore and illuminate the artist's innovative techniques- such as his bold, varied brushwork- and the painting's historical context, noting the contemporary criticism it received for its modern subject matter and unrefined appearance.
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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque paintings, National Gallery of Art, and Melanie Gifford, research conservator, National Gallery of Art. Few artists were more skilled than Willem van Aelst (1627-1683) at depicting luscious fruits, luxurious fabrics, and spoils of the hunt. His renowned still lifes are remarkable for their fine finish, carefully balanced composition, jewel-toned palette, and elegant subject matter. Bringing together 28 of these sumptuous paintings and his only known drawing, this exhibition- the first devoted solely to this artist- celebrates the most technically brilliant Dutch still-life painter of his time. It is also accompanied by the first comprehensive publication on his work. In this opening day lecture, curator Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. discusses van Aelst's life and talent, including his impact on late-17th-century still-life painting. Conservator Melanie Gifford discusses the technical research that revealed how van Aelst created his luxurious illusions. Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst is on view at the National Gallery of Art from June 24 to October 14, 2012.
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Franklin Kelly, chief curator and deputy director, National Gallery of Art, Lance Mayer and Gay Myers, independent conservators. Scholars from around the world gathered at the National Gallery of Art to discuss Samuel F. B. Morse's newly conserved Gallery of the Louvre, which is on view at the National Gallery of Art from June 25, 2011, through July 8, 2012. In a 2-day public symposium, held and recorded on April 20 and 21, 2012, academics, conservators, and curators examined the historical context of the work, its conservation treatment, and the techniques used. This program was coordinated with and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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Bryan Draper, Collections Conservator, University of Maryland Libraries; Norvell Jones, retired Chief of the Document Conservation Branch, National Archives; and Sheila Waters, calligrapher. Recalling the 45th anniversary of the catastrophic flood of Florence in 1966, the National Gallery of Art, in association with the University of Maryland Libraries presented a rare screening of Franco Zeffirelli's Florence: Days of Destruction (Per Firenze) on November 5, 2011. The famed Italian director's sole documentary is a heartfelt call to action containing the only known footage of the flood, accented by Richard Burton's voiceover commentary. The film is in the collection of the University of Maryland Libraries, College Park. Program speakers included Bryan Draper, Collections Conservator, University of Maryland Libraries; Norvell Jones, retired Chief of the Document Conservation Branch, National Archives; and Sheila Waters, calligrapher, who participated in the conservation efforts in post-flood Florence.

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Daphne Barbour, senior conservator, department of object conservation, National Gallery of Art; Suzanne G. Lindsay, adjunct associate professor in the history of art, University of Pennsylvania; and Shelley Sturman, senior conservator and head of the department of object conservation, National Gallery of Art. This podcast, recorded on January 30, 2011, celebrates the publication of Edgar Degas Sculpture, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, which documents the Gallery's collection of the artist's lifetime sculptures—the largest of its kind in the world. Catalogue authors Daphne Barbour, Suzanne Lindsay, and Shelley Sturman present their contributions to the landmark publication, including essays on Degas' life and work, his sculptural technique and materials, and the story of the sculptures after his death. The technical analysis reveals that Degas usually built his own armatures from wires, wood, and metal pins, and formed the sculptures over them and fillers he had at hand: cork stoppers, paper, rope, rags, and even discarded objects such as the lid of a saltshaker.

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Daphne Barbour, senior object conservator, and Shelley Sturman, head of object conservation, National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art holds the greatest collection in the world of original wax sculptures created by Edgar Degas. Celebrating the publication of the Gallery's newest Systematic Catalogue, Edgar Degas Sculpture, Shelley Sturman and Daphne Barbour, two of the authors who are senior conservators, discuss their extensive research on the art, history, and techniques of the Gallery's unsurpassed collection of 52 works in wax, clay, and plaster, as well as a dozen posthumously cast bronzes.

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Gretchen Hirschauer, associate curator, Italian and Spanish paintings, and Catherine Metzger, senior conservator of paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Delights of the Spanish table are exquisitely depicted by Luis Meléndez-the greatest still-life painter of 18th-century Spain. In podcast produced on the occasion of the exhibition, Hirschauer talks to paintings conservator Catherine Metzger about their recent technical examination of Meléndez's paintings, including some new discoveries.

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Gretchen Hirschauer, associate curator, Italian and Spanish paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Delights of the Spanish table are exquisitely depicted by Luis Meléndez-the greatest still-life painter of 18th-century Spain. In this podcast produced on the occasion of the exhibition, Hirschauer talks to host Barbara Tempchin about Meléndez's skill for rendering everyday objects with convincing detail, marvelous effects of color and light, and subtle variations in texture.

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Nicholas Penny, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts, National Gallery of Art, and Dylan Smith, Robert H. Smith Research Conservator, National Gallery of Art. Robert H. Smith has amassed one of the most important private collections of Renaissance sculptures in the world. The Smith collection includes bronzes by masters such as Antico, Giovanni Bologna, and Antonio Susini, as well as eye-catching works in ivory and boxwood. Nicholas Penny-in his last podcast as National Gallery of Art curator of sculpture and decorative arts before he assumes directorship of the National Gallery, London-talks to Robert H. Smith Research Conservator Dylan Smith about these beautiful works of art, their composition, and how they were made.