Picture Meeting 28 oktober 2010: Paintings in Historic Interiors

Picture Meeting Report, 28 October 2010

The Picture Meeting of 28 October 2010 was the last Picture Meeting taking place in the auditorium of the Gabriel Metsustraat. From 1 January 2011, the activities of the ICN will be accommodated within the Institute for Cultural Heritage (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, RCE). The building of the Gabriel Metsustraat 8 will be abandoned and the staff will be relocated to the RCE building in Amersfoort. This is also where the next meeting in January 2011 will take place, although it is by no means certain that all future Picture Meetings will be in Amersfoort.

The theme of the morning session was Paintings in Historic Interiors. The first lecture Lining a ceiling painting was given by Annefloor Slotter (SRAL). The ceiling painting from the title was Aurora, painted for the Great Hall in Huys Amerongen in Amerongen. The structural treatment of the painting was the subject of Annefloor Slotter’s thesis at the SRAL, executed under the supervision of conservator Jos van Och. Annefloor gave a clear and well-reasoned report of the state of conservation of Aurora and discussed the pros and cons of a lining. The final choice was for a lining, after which decision followed an extensive period of testing various materials and methods. Finally, after choosing the materials and method, the actual treatment was carried out with good results.

The second lecture was a collaboration between paintings conservator Emily Froment (UvA) and art historian Margriet van Eikema Hommes (ICN). The lecture was called The gallery of the former town hall of Amsterdam. An interrelation between painting, architecture and light? It was argued convincingly that the paintings in the galleries have changed in tonality and through a variety of reasons have become darker. The architectural surroundings were originally not the stark white we see today, but the sandstone was left uncovered. Also, indirect light came in through doorways in the corners underneath the paintings, doorways that are now closed off to light. But in spite of the fact that by the end of the 17th century the tonal balance between paintings and architecture was much better than it is nowadays, it is demonstrated that the situation has never been perfect.

Judith Bohan gave a presentation on historical wallpaper, called Colourful wall paper layers in a historic house: Oud-Amelisweerd. This project was done in collaboration with the SRAL, who did several projects in this 17th century villa to study the interiors. Judith led us through most of the rooms on the various floors and gave an overview of the wallpaper fragments found. Where possible she had found comparable examples, on which basis she could often date the discovered fragments. Sometimes archival research also helped to find dates or even the commissioners for the wallpaper. At the end she presented all her findings in a schedule to show the correlation between them. Extraordinary was that from the period between 1770 and 1804 almost all wallpapers could be reconstructed.

After this lecture, Margriet van Eikema-Hommes (ICN) gave the exciting announcement that her project – From isolation to coherence: an integrated technical, visual and historical study of 17th and 18th century Dutch painting ensembles – has been awarded a Vidi grant. The goal of this interdisciplinary research is to rediscover the coherence of wall paintings and the rooms they once hung in. Often such ensembles have been lost, because the room was extensively renovated or even dismantled. The next presentation about five wall paintings by Ferdinand Bol form an excellent case-study of the type of research that will be undertaken in this project.

The presentation by Margriet van Eikema-Hommes (ICN) on five large paintings by Ferdinand Bol, was a continuation of a lecture on the same subject presented earlier. The first lecture still had many open questions at the end, especially concerning the odd combination of subjects. This presentation, called Decoration of a Utrecht Canal House by Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680): A technical and historical analysis of an early series of large fitted canvasses, successfully answered the question of the subject matter by reconstruction of the history of the paintings. Once the commissioner of the paintings was determined, the choice for the subject matter could be explained by the history of a family both ambitious and orthodox Christian. Not only the subject matter could be explained, but also the intriguing history of the making of the paintings, which was still somewhat of a puzzle last time.

The presentations after lunch did not have a common theme, although various speakers dealt with the pigment lead white in one form on another. The presentation by Annelies van Loon (Mauritshuis) was called The interpretation of surface layers in cross-sections from multi-layer paint systems in historic interiors: Varnish layer or crust formation? She recapitulated some earlier findings on lead white related degradation processes. In many cases such degradation would lead to an increased transparency and darkening of the paint layers, in other cases to crust formation on top of the paint layer. Annelies presented some case studies of samples from historical interiors with similar questions and findings. Interesting was a sample from the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam where a transparent layer might – using regular microscopy – be mistaken for an old varnish layer. Analyses showed however that this was a crust containing lead, potassium and sulphur, which was identified as a lead white degradation layer.

The lecture by Jaap Boon was also a continuation of an earlier Picture Meeting presentation about The Art of Painting by Vermeer. This presentation was called Palmierite reactivity in the Art of Painting by Vermeer points to severe after-effects of the German lining method a century later. The title was at the same time the conclusion of the lecture. The research described here – part of extensive examination of the painting – was triggered by rather curious orange-red inclusions in those parts of the paint layer which had a history of severe flaking. The inclusions turned out to be iron-oxide and, very interestingly, were formed recently. They were not added by Vermeer. Jaap Boon demonstrated that alum that was used during a – so-called German – lining, migrated through the paint during recent conservation treatment using long-term application of moist and pressure. There it reacted to form palmierite (K2Pb(SO4)2). Another, connected reaction was the formation of iron-oxide, giving the orange-red particles mentioned in the beginning.

The next presentation by Muriel Geldof (ICN) was about a series of paintings done by Van Gogh after Millet called Les Traveaux des Champs (the Works of the Fields). Of the ten paintings, the Van Gogh Museum owns seven and these seven were the subject of the research. There were three questions to be answered. The first was about the method Van Gogh used for copying from print to painting. The second was about the order of painting the series. The third and last question was about the degree of discoloration present in the paint layers. All three questions were convincingly answered. One of the interesting discoveries was that the artist executed his paintings in the order of the print after Millet, with the exception of paintings number six and seven, which he seems to have switched around.

Maartje Witlox (UvA) presented a lecture called ‘To prepare white excellent…’ – Lead white processing and particle size selection according to historical recipes. For her PhD she has studied many recipes concerning lead white. In these recipes improving the quality of lead white is often specified through a variety of means. She has taken some of the recipes about refining lead white that were mentioned most often and did reconstructions with them. Some of the interesting results were that grinding and/ or washing lead white with water or vinegar gets rid of lead acetate and reduces the amount of cerrusite against the amount of hydrocerrusite. However this doesn’t have much effect on the particle size. Really fine particles of lead white – such as found on The Art of Painting by Vermeer! – could only be obtained by decanting lead white several times with water.

Maarten van Bommel (ICN) gave the last lecture. It was called Faded flowers – Analysis of modern marquetry applied on 17th and 18th century Dutch furniture. Maarten’s expertise in the analysis of dyes was called in for furniture. In the 19th century there was a high demand for 17th century Dutch furniture with so-called marquetry. Because not enough furniture was available to supply the demand, plain 17th century furniture was inserted with marquetry to imitate 17th century originals. This 19th century marquetry is often of high quality and difficult to distinguish from 17th century examples. However the stains used to colour the marquetry are often made from synthetic dyes, which take over natural dyes rather quick during the n19th century. Maarten van Bommel showed that – under the right conditions – it is possible to identify synthetic dyes and thus the period in which the marquetry was (not) made.

 Verslag Esther van Duijn

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