National Gallery wins grant to help save art conservation skills
Source:theguardian Author:Maev Kennedy Date: 2018-08-02 Size:
Essential conservation work on world famous paintings, including ……

Anthony van Dyck’s equestrian portrait of Charles I. Photograph: The National Gallery, London.

Essential conservation work on world famous paintings, including the equestrian portrait of Charles I in the National Gallery in London, in which Anthony Van Dyck transformed the diminutive monarch into a heroic emblem of power on a magnificent horse, will be used to train a new generation on how to prolong the life of historic canvases, through grants from the Getty Foundation in California.

The foundation is worried that the traditional skills of repairing or re-lining canvases, mending tears and preserving cracking or peeling paint, are being lost as a generation of conservators retires. The grants are intended to spread the understanding of how to conserve these works between institutions and countries.

“For years museum conservators have adopted a ‘wait and monitor’ approach to any major structural intervention on canvas paintings,” Antoine Wilmering, a conservation expert at the Getty, said. “But the danger is that once treatment can no longer be delayed, the experts with direct knowledge of lining and re-lining won’t be there to offer help.”

The National Gallery will receive more than £70,000, so that it can share the conservation process on the monumental Van Dyck. Since it came to Trafalgar Square in 1885 the huge painting has rarely been off display, but while the 17th century canvas is in relatively good condition, the more recent lining intended to protect it is failing and has to be replaced, and the paint surface has a web of cracks and splits.

The history of the painting, made around 1637, has left its scars on the canvas, which was taken off its stretchers and rolled at some point after it left the royal collection, sold off and passing through a succession of aristocratic owners on the continent after the execution of Charles in 1649. Although his son, Charles II, reassembled as much of the collection as possible when the monarchy was reinstated, the Van Dyck only came back to England in 1706 with John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, as part of the spoils of war, and was sold to the gallery from his heirs. It was among the paintings evacuated to a slate quarry in north Wales to escape the blitz in London, in a travelling case so enormous it was nicknamed “the elephant”. At one point a hole had to be dug in a road to get it under a low bridge.

Visiting conservators and a final international workshop will share in the work on the painting, which will include removing the old lining and applying a new one.

Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, said the Conserving Canvas project came from concerns raised by international experts. “We heard that there is a growing skills gap between senior conservators who learned treatments of paintings on canvas decades ago and newer museum conservators who need to address pressing problems for paintings in their own collections,” she said.

Recent best practice of minimal intervention came at a price, she said, as paintings in museum collections around the world that were lined to strengthen and support the original canvas, and now had structural failures. Many were not being treated because conservators felt insufficiently experienced to attempt safe intervention.

Christina O’Connell, the Huntington’s senior paintings conservator, examines the surface of The Blue Boy. Photograph: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

The Getty intends to hold a major international symposium at Yale University in October 2019, the first since 1974.

The grants include £115,000 for the University of Glasgow, which will hold training workshops on five paintings from the Scottish national collection including Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Lady Maynard; and funding for projects at Yale University and the fine arts museums in San Francisco, as well as galleries in Sweden, and the Netherlands.

The Huntington Library in California has won a grant of $150,000 (£114,000) for work on the most famous painting in its collection, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy – a sentimental but beloved image thanks to its many reproductions, including on jigsaws, chocolate boxes and biscuit tins worldwide. The painting has been on continuous display for a century, but is now suffering from cracking and lifting paint, and separation of the back of the canvas from its support lining. The conservation work is being done mainly in public in the gallery.

[Editor] 张艳

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