The Metropolitan Museum's world-famed collection of European paintings encompasses works of art from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries—from Giotto to Gauguin. Most, though not all, are displayed in the galleries of the Department of European Paintings. Others works of art can be found in the Lehman Collection, the Linsky Collection, The Cloisters, and in various period rooms.
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Michael Gallagher has been taking readers of this blog series step by step through his conservation work on the remarkable Jabach portrait. So I thought this might be the moment—in the few weeks remaining until its installation in the galleries—to reflect on how we came to acquire this extraordinary picture.
Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2015
"Almost invariably," writes Stendahl in the Italian Chronicles, "foreigners coming to Rome ask to be taken, at the outset of their tour of inspection, to the Barberini gallery; they are attracted, the women especially, by the portraits of Beatrice Cenci and her stepmother." Beatrice, of course, not only had possessed beauty, but she had a story, having been publicly executed for the murder of her cruel, molesting father.
What was thought to be her portrait (above) was painted by the "Divine Guido Reni" (1575–1642). Reni was a great artist, but the picture Stendahl admired was not, in fact, by him and certainly cannot hold a candle to the portrait of an unknown beauty recently given to the Metropolitan Museum and now hanging—following its cleaning and reframing—in gallery 623.
Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Michael Gallagher uses gouache paint to retouch losses in the Jabach portrait, which has been undergoing conservation for the past eight months.
With the exception of the inevitable damage caused by the turning over of the top of the canvas to attach it to a smaller stretcher (see my September 24, 2014, post about this aspect of the painting's history), the great Jabach family portrait is in exceptional condition. Nevertheless, there are several small losses and scrapes that are typical for a painting of this age and size and which hung in domestic interiors—albeit quite grand ones—for centuries. So the next step is to retouch these areas.
Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015
We sometimes imagine that no one before the twentieth century thought of a painting in terms of line and color and the play between surface and depth—that before the advent of Cubism, painting was a matter of mere description. Wrong.
Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Michael Gallagher applies the first layer of varnish to the surface of the Jabach portrait.
After the completion of cleaning and structural work on the Jabach portrait, the next step in its conservation is the application of a first layer of varnish. The varnish acts as an isolating layer between the original painting and the retouching—which will come later—but, most importantly, it begins the process of saturating the surface, which is so crucial to a painting of this period.
Posted: Friday, January 23, 2015
Conservators Michael Gallagher, George Bisacca, Alan Miller, and Jonathan Graindorge Lamour reattach the Jabach portrait to its stretcher in preparation for the final phases of conservation.
Just before the holidays, we reached a major milestone in the conservation of the Jabach portrait: the reattachment of the canvas to its stretcher. The short video above gives a good sense of the process undertaken with George Bisacca, Alan Miller, and Jonathan Graindorge Lamour. In all, it took about a couple of hours.
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015
The Jabach portrait is now back on its stretcher, and Michael Gallagher is about to move on from the complex structural work that has occupied him these past few months to the final retouching and varnishing. In other words, we are in the home stretch.
Posted: Monday, December 22, 2014
After the severe distortions at the top of the Jabach portrait were successfully reduced, the next step was to prepare the painting for re-stretching. This involved the attachment of a new strip-lining; new pieces of canvas were adhered along all four edges of the reverse of the painting using a heat-activated adhesive. (It should be noted that these can be easily removed in the future if necessary.)
Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014
While Michael Gallagher has been busy dealing with the structural issues of Charles Le Brun's great family portrait, I have felt privileged to be an attentive observer. But I have also been thinking about one of the many features that makes this painting so fascinating—the fact that Le Brun included his own reflection in a black-framed mirror propped on a table.
Posted: Monday, December 1, 2014
Paul Cézanne is central to the study of modern art, yet one of his most frequently painted subjects, his wife, Hortense Fiquet, is often neglected in the scholarship on the artist. If she is mentioned at all, Hortense is described as ill-humored and as a negative influence on Cézanne's painting. Madame Cézanne, the catalogue accompanying the eponymous exhibition currently on view through March 15, 2015, aims to reevaluate these perceptions of Hortense. I sat down with Dita Amory, curator of the exhibition and co-author of the catalogue, to discuss the book and the complicated, enigmatic relationship between Cézanne and his wife.
Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
One thing you learn quickly in conservation is that the objects under your care make the rules! Frequently, well-thought-through plans or strategies for approaches to treatment have to be tweaked or completely rethought.
Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014
That's right; our newly acquired Jabach portrait arrived at the Museum with no frame. When I inquired about the omission, I was told that the frame it had had in London was not worth sending over. Besides, that frame no longer fit the picture, since it had been made when the top of the canvas was folded over. (See "The Jabach Conservation Continued: Next Steps" for more on the fold in the canvas.)
Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Now that I've finished the cleaning of the Jabach portrait, it is time to deal with the distortion resulting from the top of the picture having been folded over (as described in my last post). We first had to construct a platform on which to lay the picture face down while working on the reverse side of the canvas. This was custom built by our structural specialist, George Bisacca.
Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Now that the varnish removal from the Jabach portrait is finished, it's time to turn to a rather more thorny issue: the structural conservation work.
The original and surprisingly fine canvas is constructed from five pieces of fabric: a large, central rectangle; two horizontal bands, one each top and bottom; and two vertical bands, one each at the left- and right-hand sides. The horizontal bands run the full width of the composition. This construction is entirely original, planned from the outset to accommodate the monumental scale of the painting while carefully situating the seams in the peripheral areas of the composition.
Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2014
Those of us who work in museums are as curious as any visitor to know about all the objects that fill a given painting. In the case of Charles Le Brun's Jabach portrait, a painting of a well-to-do family in a luxurious Parisian residence, there's a lot to catch your eye; we see a number of things the family must have owned and treasured.
Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
The cleaning of the Jabach portrait is going well, and we in Paintings Conservation are all transfixed by the exceptional quality of the painting. One area I was particularly looking forward to seeing without the yellowed varnish was the beautiful figure of Jabach's daughter Anna Maria. She really anchors the right-hand side of the composition, and her self-aware, direct gaze pulls us into the Jabach family's rarefied world. Below are some photographs that I took during the cleaning.
Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Well, if you live in New York and work at the Metropolitan Museum, there's really only one acceptable answer to that question! But what happens when two versions of a picture exist, as is the case with the Metropolitan's new painting by Charles Le Brun of the German banker Everhard Jabach (1618–1695)? I worried about this as we entered into negotiations for the purchase of the picture.
Posted: Friday, August 8, 2014
For the first time in recent memory, all seventeen of the Met's paintings by Vincent van Gogh—the largest collection of the artist's work on this side of the Atlantic—are in house and on view in galleries 823, 826, and 961. Visitors can enjoy a full range of highlights from the artist's prolific years in France, from portraits to still lifes to landscapes. These masterpieces are often committed to exhibitions around the world, making this a not-to-be-missed occasion.
Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014
I had first seen the Jabach family portrait in a warehouse in London over a year ago and loved it, but I'll admit that when it finally arrived in our paintings conservation studio at the Museum this past June, I was a bit overwhelmed—it's enormous! Fortunately, the work's current condition needs to be fully documented before conservation can begin. This not only helps a conservator understand the painting and its issues but also provides some breathing space and thinking time.