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Preserving a Legacy: See it while you can

The exhibition, Preserving a Legacy: Wishard Hospital Murals, is only open for one more month.  If you haven’t been, you might miss out on the unique opportunity to see the in-progress conservation work on these beautiful Hoosier paintings.

Wishard Hospital Murals

Wishard Hospital Murals

When you walk into the exhibition, you are greeted by a rare glimpse of art conservation.  The first painting you will see is Carl C. Graf’s Three Muses, which is presented in a partially conserved state.  The left side of the painting has not yet been conserved and is obscured by dirt, discolored varnish, and heavy restorer’s overpaint.  Walking into the gallery is like a behind-the-scenes visit to the conservation lab.  Take a look for yourself in the image below.

Three Muses

Three Muses

The difference in color speaks for itself.  Beneath those heavy darkened layers of the previous restorer’s materials there are delicate details and soft colors of the original painting.  Did you know that the human eye perceives value (dark and light) and color differently?  The discolored varnish effects both value and color, drastically altering the way you visually perceive the painting.  Once the exhibition closes, the conservation treatment of The Three Muses will be completed and this rare opportunity to see the process in person will be gone.

The Three Muses isn’t the only glimpse of the conservation work; there is a whole wall in the gallery that gives you a chance to observe and compare the process.  On the same wall as The Three Muses, there are two landscapes by Jay H. Connaway.  One has been conserved by the IMA and the other still retains the discolored materials from the 1967 restoration attempt.  Can you tell which one has been conserved?

two landscapes by Jay H. Connaway

two landscapes by Jay H. Connaway

As with The Three Muses, the color difference clearly shows how the current, careful conservation treatments have helped reveal the true palette of the painting.  With all the old restoration materials removed from the painting, the original colors and details can once again be seen and appreciated in Connaway’s Landscape with Rolling Hills—the painting on the right.  For a detailed, step by step, account of the IMA conservation treatment of Jay H. Connaway’s Landscape with Rolling Hills, check out the Flickr set here.

If you look closely at the Connaway landscape on the left, you can see the areas of damage and overpaint.  Conservators begin the examination and detection of these restored areas by simple observation of the surface.  The over paint is often discolored and no longer matches the surrounding original paint.  There is also a textural difference between the overpaint and the original paint; often the overpaint is more thickly applied.  Can you spot the overpaint in this detail?

Landscap with Rolling Hills

Landscape with Rolling Hills

Perhaps you noticed right away that some of the details in this area of the composition (the bottom center of the painting) looked a little clumsy and heavy?  If not, the arrow in the image below will point you in the right direction.

overpaint detail

overpaint detail

The portion of the bent tree indicated by the blue is much thicker and heavier that the original brushstrokes applied by the artist.  The color of this over painted area is also different from the original paint.  That makes this areas appear very flat; it lacks the same delicacy and detail that works in the other original areas of the composition.

Of course, looking at these paintings in person gives you a chance to better see these details and understand the importance conservation has on the visual appearance and interpretation of these murals.

Preserving a Legacy: Wishard Hospital Murals closes on March 29, 2009.

The portion of the bent tree indicated by the blue is much thicker and heavier that the original brushstrokes applied by the artist.  The color of this over painted area is also different from the original paint.  That makes this areas appear very flat; it lacks the same delicacy and detail that works in the other original areas of the composition.

Of course, looking at these paintings in person gives you a chance to better see these details and understand the importance conservation has on the visual appearance and interpretation of these murals.

Preserving a Legacy: Wishard Hospital Murals closes on March 29, 2009.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Technology

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