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Keeping Green Leaves Green: An Overview on Tree Injections

Sutphin Mall

Of all the peculiar methods and practices that we use to protect and maintain our beloved plants at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the use of tree injections may be one of the strangest to observe. Imagine a couple of garden staff members drilling holes and inserting tubes into trees, pumping bright green liquid right into the trunks. A sight such as this might seem like more harm than good to the tree. However, the use of injections is the reason for the continuous health of some of our trees here at the IMA. The need for tree injections varies from tree to tree. The reasons can range from eradicating invasive pests to preventing killer diseases.

chlorosis-webFor example, the maples on the Dudley V. and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall of the IMA provide a lovely sidewalk border perfect for strolling in the shade of the trees. However, the soil that these trees are planted in doesn’t provide the best nutrients. Iron is a very important element to plant health and it plays a large role in the successful conduction of photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process is fundamentally the lifeblood of most plants.

Unfortunately, the soil on the lawn does not contain much iron and the trees experience deficiencies. These deficiencies cause a yellowing of the leaves and a condition called iron chlorosis. Thankfully, we have a solution we can inject into the trees that contains iron and other important elements to keep the trees happy and healthy.


Tree injection begins with a measurement of the trees’ diameter and circumference to determine how much solution needs to be injected. After that, the solution is poured into what’s called a “Tree I.V.,” and the injection site is drilled into the trunk. The small yellow “plugs” provide a place for the needle to stick and additionally protect the wound after injection is complete.

Tree injectionThe trees simply grow new bark over the plugs as time goes on. When it comes to our maples, the iron-containing solution will travel from the injection site in the trunk, through the vascular system of the tree, all the way up to the leaves. Once the whole process is complete, we can watch as the solution provides the means for increased photosynthesis. This will allow the healthy green color to return to the leaves and improve their overall state. So the next time that you see a staff member drilling holes in a tree, know that they are (probably) not crazy, but are just continuing to keep the IMA beautiful.

Filed under: Conservation, Gardens


Conservation of Jacopo Zucchi’s Portrait of a Lady

Jacopo Zucchi's 'Portrait of a Lady'

Jacopo Zucchi (Italian, 1540 – 1596), Portrait of a Lady, oil on canvas, 48 x 37-3/4 in. 63-1/2 x 54-1/4 in (framed). Courtesy of the Clowes Fund. C10015.

Jacopo Zucchi’s 16th century Portrait of a Lady (attributed) portrays a wealthy woman in a red velvet dress, adorned in jewelry. With no coat of arms, inscriptions or other indications, the lady’s identity remains a topic of on going research by IMA scholars. The painter Zucchi apprenticed under well-known Florentine artist Giorgio Vasari, and both artists painted for various members of the affluent and powerful Medici family. The woman in the portrait may have been closely associated with the Medici family, a link that correlates well with her sumptuous clothing and precious jewelry. Technical analysis and examination of the pigments used in the composition further reinforce the woman’s wealth. For instance, vermilion, an expensive bright-red pigment typically reserved for delicate red hues in flesh tones, was used throughout the dress. Only the most prosperous of patrons could afford a portrait with such expensive paints, let alone the actual garments and jewelry. Ongoing research and technical analysis will hopefully provide clues to her identity as well as solidify the attribution.


Portrait of a Lady suffered numerous damages in the past, and although previously restored on several occasions, the painting has remained unsuitable for display due to aesthetic reasons. In particular, the aged natural resin varnish present over the entire surface caused the painting to appear yellow and the woman’s complexion to appear an unnatural yellow-orange (Fig. 1). The painting was moved out of storage and brought to the Conservation Lab at the IMA, where it underwent analysis and treatment with the chief goal of restoring it to an exhibitable state. After thorough testing, the varnish was carefully removed using solvents during the first stage of the conservation process. Immediately following the varnish removal, the painting appeared much brighter, and the woman’s original pale complexion was returned. Along with the varnish, the old restorers’ paint was removed, since it too had discolored and no longer matched the original paint. At this point in the treatment, the painting revealed the true extent of past damages. The paint losses indicate that the painting likely suffered from being folded and from exposure to water. With the varnish and overpaint removed, the numerous damages, which interfered greatly with the interpretation of the composition, could be addressed.


Fiona Beckett retouches Portrait of a Lady

Retouching Jacopo Zucchi’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ in the Clowes Pavilion.

In the final stage of treatment, the areas of paint loss and abrasion are visually reintegrated into the composition by a conservation process known as “inpainting” or “retouching” (Fig.2). A fine sable brush is used to gently apply stable conservation pigments in a synthetic medium to the damaged areas. This process is time consuming and requires precise blending of pigments to match those of the painting. This final step in the treatment will occur in the Clowes Pavilion, located on Floor 2. From April through June, Clowes Conservator of Paintings Fiona Beckett will finish retouching the painting in the gallery for guests to observe. Once the retouching is complete, a stable synthetic varnish will be applied to the surface of the painting to fully saturate the colors, as well as provide a layer of protection. Natural aging and cracking of the paint will remain visible as a testament to the painting’s age, which is approximately 500 years old. With the conservation process complete, the painting will once again, and for the first time in many years, be exhibited in the Clowes Pavilion.



Visitors can watch the restoration of Portrait of a Lady in the Clowes Italian Gallery from April – June 2015 on the following days:

Wednesdays   10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Thursdays   1 – 4 p.m.

First Thursdays 5 – 7 p.m.

First Saturdays 12 – 3 p.m.


Filed under: Conservation


Dutch Heads: Portraits and tronies in the circle of Rembrandt

One of the most captivating works in the Clowes Collection is the diminutive Old Man in a Tall, Fur-Edged Cap [Fig. 1]. Painted with a warm palette of earth tones, this venerable man seems lost in thought as he gazes out of the panel, his lips slightly parted in an expression of emotional absorption. His wrinkled skin and downy beard evoke his age and imbue him with a wisdom derived from a life long lived.

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

The painting has long been associated with the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Not only did the artist delight in depicting the folds and bags of old skin from early on in his career, but the manner of applying paint to the panel – contrasting thinner layers with thicker ones, using primarily broad brushstrokes – distinctly recalls the artist’s late style. Furthermore, such heavily clothed elderly men appear frequently in the artist’s compositions. They appear in various iterations as a disciple in the Supper at Emmaus of 1648, as a wise poet in his Homer of 1663, as Jacob in an illustration of Joseph recounting his dreams of the early 1640s, and even as a simple old man in a sketch from the 1640s. The clear differences in pose and scale, however, reveal that the Clowes panel is neither a preliminary study for nor direct copy after any of these works.

In addition, all indications suggest that this painting is not a fragment but a wholly independent, finished work. The man’s bust is framed at the center of the panel, without any disturbing cropping of his clothing or appendages. The neutral background does not expose any discontinuities in pattern, nor does it indicate shadows that would have suggested now-missing objects from a larger composition. The turned head and distant gaze of the sitter could imply a missing conversation partner, but it is equally likely that such a figure would have been merely implied. In fact, the averted gaze, combined with the fur-lined cap and coarse mantle, distinguish this figure as a tronie, or character study.

A tronie, a historical term meaning “head” in old Dutch, has been found to occur in 17th-century inventories to describe paintings of individual faces removed from their narrative context. The variety in usage of the word can be seen in the inventory recording the vast stock of the high-end art dealer Johannes de Renialme (c. 1600-1657): while the simple designation tronie seems to refer generically to a painted face, the term can also be used to specify the age (out troni or “old face”), sex (vrouwetronie or “woman’s face”), or even the fashion (antycqe troni or “antique face”) of the head portrayed. The term distinguishes the painting from a portrait (contrefeijtsel or portret in 17th-century Dutch), the foremost function of which is to convey the facial features of a specific person (contrefeijtsel van de Hartogh or “portrait of the duke”) and to indicate their profession or social status with secondary attributes. Tronies also differentiate themselves from single-figure history paintings, in which there is a concentration upon emotional expression and costume but also a notable narrative action. Tronies can be discerned through the handling of the paint, the posture of the body, the exaggerated facial expression, and sometimes through the obstruction of the face through dramatic shading and a communicative turn of the head. A second example in the IMA’s collection is a tronie [Fig. 2] depicting a young woman adorned with pearls and a diaphanous veil by Rembrandt’s pupil, Govaert Flinck (1615-1660).

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

Tronies occupied a special place in the oeuvres of Rembrandt and his colleague-cum-competitor Jan Lievens (1607-1674): the artists seem to have commodified the tronie as a new product for the art market during their early years in Leiden. Art historians like Yoriko Kobayashi-Sato and Franziska Gottwald have emphasized the origins of the tronie in the studios of late 15th- and early 16th-century artists like Perugino (1446-1523) and Leonardo (1452-1519), but the immediate examples for this “young and noble pair of painters” would have been the Antwerp artists Frans Floris (1517-1570), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The major difference between the examples in the Flemish studios and those executed by Rembrandt and Lievens, however, would have been in their function. In the studio of Rubens, for example, a tronie would be painted by the master and employed as a model – by the master himself or his assistants – when executing a more complete narrative composition. Lievens and Rembrandt were young masters with few or no assistants in their Leiden workshops, and their highly worked-up tronies have little in common with their paintings of historical or mythological subjects. Rather, they came to market their tronies as independent paintings for the open market and developed such original character types as the “oriental” and “Rembrandt’s mother.” Dagmar Hirschfelder has found a reference to a tronie by Rembrandt in an inventory of 1628, just three years after he had begun to work as an independent master, which suggests that these paintings were immediately popular among art-loving audiences. The continued popularity of their tronies is demonstrated by the presence of such types of paintings by the hands of both Rembrandt and Lievens in Renialme’s estate inventory of 1657.

While the hand that executed our old man remains unknown, the overall proximity of the painting to Rembrandt’s style and its categorization as a tronie makes it a valuable asset to the Clowes Collection. Not only does this classification arrest our hunt for the composition for which it would have been made, but it redirects our attention to the general character that the artist captured through his attractive combination of costume, lighting, and facial expression. By qualifying this work as a tronie, this charming painting becomes an important marker of Rembrandt’s pioneering pictorial inventions.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, History, The Collection


Art & Science Collide: The IMA at Celebrate Science Indiana

Guest bloggers Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler are painting conservators at the IMA.

On October 4, the Indianapolis Museum of Art was present in full strength at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana Fair at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith along with Paintings Conservators Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler demonstrated the link between science and art to fair-goers of all ages. Throughout the day, the IMA booth was filled with lively conversations about art conservation and conservation science, including the different analysis techniques that help conservators examine great works of art and reveal secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Using a photographic examination technique, visitors excitedly observed a painting in-situ with a specialized infrared camera, which allowed them to see beyond the upper paint layer and discover a hidden figure beneath. Guests analyzed artists’ materials with X-ray fluorescence, a technique used to identify the presence of elements (such as iron or lead). Once identified, these elements help the conservator determine which pigments were present on the artist’s palette.

For many, the highlight was handling the raw artists materials including 6,000 year-old lapis lazuli, a rare blue mineral once worth its weight in gold. Visitors also guessed the contents of a test tube containing cochineal insects, which are processed to make the red dye, carmine. Many were shocked to discover that the dye not only provided color for artworks, but is also present in many of today’s food and cosmetic products!

Visit us next year (Saturday, October 3, 2015) and see what else art and science have in common!

In the meantime, you can visit Coat of Many Colors at the IMA to discover how scientific imaging and dye analysis has helped us to pinpoint a creation date for an Uzbek garment.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Education, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Technology


#ArchivesMonth at the IMA


… and to celebrate, I am going to share items from some of my favorite collections in the IMA Archives. But first, you may be wondering, “What is an archives?”

An archives is a place where people go to find information. But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.

– The Society of American Archivists

As the IMA’s Archivist, I manage over 130 years of institutional records and special collections that relate to all aspects of the museum’s historic and current operations. While I often work with documents and photographs, the IMA Archives includes textiles, architectural drawings, landscape and sculptural models, scrapbooks, films, and a variety of other unique materials – not limited to the physical. As the IMA and its staff move further into the digital age, I do my best to combat the possibility of a “digital dark age” for the museum by ensuring that both born digital and digitized electronic records are preserved and made accessible for current and future needs.

While the museum’s records date back over 130 years, the IMA Archives was officially established only four years ago. In that short time, some very amazing collections of archival material have become available for research. Not only do these collections document the operations of the museum and the work of IMA departments and governing bodies, but they also give a glimpse into the lives of the people who made the IMA what it is today — our founders, donors, staff members, and patrons throughout the museum’s history. By documenting the actions of these individuals, the archival material also speaks volumes about the vital role that the arts have played in our city and throughout Indiana for generations.

The following are some of my favorite collections and individual items from the IMA Archives …

IMA Exhibition Records
The IMA Archives Exhibition Records document the planning and execution of exhibitions from the first exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883 to the present day. The records of individual exhibitions may include checklists, exhibition catalogues, ephemera, images of installations and artwork, correspondence, press clippings and other documents.

Indiana Art and Artists
Indiana artists and their works are well-represented in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and have naturally found their way into many of the collections within the IMA Archives. Photographs, correspondence, scrapbooks, exhibition ephemera, scale models, and other artifacts in the IMA Archives document the relationship between the museum and Indiana’s artists since the founding of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.

Onya La Tour Papers (M005)
An avid art collector and dealer, Onya La Tour traveled extensively and made connections with many modern artists. After amassing her personal collection of artwork, La Tour returned to her home state of Indiana and founded the Indiana Museum for Modern Art in Brown County. Before her return to Indiana, La Tour served as director of the Federal Art Gallery  and the Onya La Tour Gallery in New York City. The collection contains La Tour’s diaries, daybooks, correspondence, personal memorabilia and research files, exhibit and gallery brochures and catalogues, published books and journals, and historical material related to the Onya La Tour art collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Select items from the Onya La Tour Papers will be on display October 17, 2014, through April 12, 2015, in the exhibition, The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana.

Miller House and Garden Collection (M003)
The Miller House and Garden, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist architecture, was designed by Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley. Commissioned by industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, the Miller House and Garden was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 2009, members of the Miller family donated the house and garden, along with many of its original furnishings, and the archives collection to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The archival collection documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the Miller House and Garden from 1953 to 2009 and includes documents, photographs, architectural and landscape drawings, and material samples. This collection is currently being digitized by IMA Archives staff, and unique and interesting finds are shared on the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design, History, IMA Staff, Indiana, Technology


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