Monday, December 20, 2010

Learning from the Masters

In one my favorite June and Art letters, my mother said, "I must be a very musty character, liking museums like this."

Like mother, like son.  I love museums.  I hate to think that means I'm a very musty character, but I guess there's a chance.

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic),
1875.  Thomas Eakins, American, 1844-1916.
Oil on canvas, 8 feet x 6 feet 6 inches.
Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum
of Art.
Since I live near Philadelphia, my favorite hang-out is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Therefore, as my thoughts turn toward appropriate care for the oil paintings in our family collection, I find myself considering the highest levels of care that are practiced at my hometown museum.

Through January 9 (so you’d better rush out there!), the Philadelphia Museum of Art is celebrating the conservation treatment of Thomas Eakins’ monumental painting The Gross Clinic in a special exhibition in the Perelman Building.  As I visited there recently and learned about the recent work that went into conserving Eakins’ great painting, my mind kept skipping back to thoughts of my family collection.

I decided to make the story of the conservation of The Gross Clinic a touchstone for a two-week exploration of the care and treatment of oil paintings.  Some friends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have volunteered to help me out with advice along the way.

Much as I like The Gross Clinic (and I like it very, very much!), I thought I’d start by sharing my long-term favorite painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It’s a painting that has also benefited from a major conservation treatment (back in the early 1990s in this case).  This is Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th century masterpiece Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John:

The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning,
c. 1460. Rogier van der Weyden, Netherlandish, 1399/1400-1464.
Oil on panel. Left panel: 71 x 36 15/16 inches; right panel: 71 x 36 7/16 inches.
Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Just wanted an excuse to share that!  On Wednesday, we’ll return to the real matter at hand, Eakins’ The Gross Clinic and the proper care and conservation of oil paintings.

© 2010 Lee Price

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