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In the Library: The Robert L. Feller and Ruth M. Johnston Feller Collection

March 2 – June 12, 2015
East Building, Study Center Library

Hand-colored engraving in P. J. Verly, Verhandeling van de schilderkonst in miniatuur, om gemakkelyk te leeren schilderen zonder meester, Utrecht, 1744, National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of Robert L. Feller and Ruth M. Johnston Feller.

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Dr. Robert Feller is a giant in the field of conservation science. His work helped to define the field, contributing to our knowledge of varnishes, color, the damaging effects of light exposure, and polymer and paper degradation. Publishing over 130 articles on these topics and more, Feller’s focus was always on the practical application of scientific methods to the work of conservators and included the testing and introduction of Acryloid B-72 to the field. Feller was named the first technical advisor for conservation and curatorial activities for the National Gallery of Art in 1950, and in 1976 he became the founding director of the Research Center on the Materials of the Artist and Conservator at Carnegie Mellon University. He has been recognized with awards from numerous conservation and scientific organizations, and the lifetime achievement award presented by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works is named for him.

What was less known until recent years is that Feller was also a bibliophile. He and his wife Ruth M. Johnston Feller amassed a collection of over 2,500 books over more than 50 years. The collection focused on the science and technology of color; history and manufacture of paints, varnishes and textiles; and treatises on painting, printmaking and sculpture. In 2013 he donated this entire collection and ancillary material to the National Gallery of Art Library in his name and the name of his late wife. Over 200 of the books in this collection are rare volumes from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century and add to already strong holdings in these areas making the National Gallery one of the major repositories for scholars researching these topics. Highlights of this exhibition include his notebook on samples taken in Florence where he worked with conservators responding to the flood of 1966, several examples of hand painted color samples, and series of several editions of important artist manuals and instruction books.

Brochure: In the Library: The Robert L. Feller and Ruth M. Johnston Feller Collection by Yuri Long. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2015.