Conference Review – Migrants: art, artists, materials and ideas crossing borders. Hamilton Kerr Institute, 15th-16th November 2018.

Final DesignThis two-day interdisciplinary conference, hosted by the Hamilton Kerr Institute and held at the Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, featured talks that explored how artists, conservators and their materials, ideas and techniques have crossed borders from antiquity to the modern day (click here for the full programme). The artworks discussed were diverse, not only paintings but sculpture, mosaics, textiles, architecture and archaeological finds, and the speakers addressed issues of war, trade, exploitation, individual personalities and the transmission of information across localities and time. It was an opportunity to bring together people from different countries and cultures, and share research from a number of disciplines in the arts, sciences and humanities.

Dr Kristin Kausland (Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage Research/Hamilton Kerr Institute) began the first session, ‘Art and Artists’, with her talk on the manufacture of Scandinavian altarpieces in the late Middle Ages, considering the contribution of immigrant Northern German artists to their fabrication, as well as the import of objects. Presenting results of detailed technical study of several altarpieces, she highlighted the amalgamative nature of these superstructures, clues in regional techniques such imitation gold, and the use of model books through generations of craftsmen. We are greatly looking forward to welcoming Dr Kausland at the HKI in February as she carries out her post-doctoral research.

Jessica David, representing the Yale Centre for British Art and colleague Edward Town, presented research exploring the work of the 16th-century artist Netherlandish Daniël van den Queborn, who served a British client base formed of military men who fought in his homeland during the Dutch Revolt. From in-depth examination of his works, the authors built an interesting portrait of a versatile artist who, in his role as ‘court’ painter to the House of Orange, built his career on diplomacy. Records from the RKD database were consulted, a resource cited as an example of instantaneous accessibility to knowledge that enables us to virtually traverse geographical distance and time today.

Javier Grossutti (Swinburne University of Technology) introduced us to terrazzo, a form of mosaic flooring seen in many buildings in the UK and Italy. Grossutti led us from the craft’s 16th-century origins in the Italian town of Friuli and its development in the 19th century under Pietro Mazzioli, who travelled to England and established a factory in London. We were given a sense of the sheer scale of the industry from the pictures of familiar places such as the National Portrait Gallery, but also buildings in other British towns and cities.

Pia Gottschaller (The Courtauld Institute of Art) discussed the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención (AACI) movement in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil from the 1940s to the 1960s. She set out a vivid picture of the artistic network established and highlighted the artists’ experimentation with new media, enabling them to communicate their ideas in a new way. Gottschaller reminded us that the travel of the artists in the 20th century, when journeys were expensive and long, might be considered just as striking a feat as Queborn’s establishment of an international client base in the 17th. On the other hand, Gottschaller also noted that these factors, and language barriers, continue to inhibit communication today, contributing to the dearth of scholarship on Concrete artists.

Beginning session 2, ‘Conservators and Conservation’, Dr Caitlin O’Grady (University College London) talked about the use of wax in the preservation of archaeological artefacts in the early 20th century, centring on the work of Sir William Matthews Flinders Petrie who led new developments in the preservation of excavated artefacts. O’Grady showed how the use of wax in the field became a recognised practice, and how the paucity of documentary evidence means that now, much of the information regarding the use of wax must come from the objects themselves. She also defined the role of ‘boundary work’ between archaeologists, scientists and curators in the spread of knowledge about such techniques for preservation.

Katya Belaia (National Trust) and Valeriia Kravchenko (Museum of Ukrainian Art) spoke on the history of conservation in the Ukraine and the issues faced by conservators working in a Soviet society. They highlighted the work of conservators who worked in the Soviet era to preserve objects that were forcefully disregarded at the time. It was particularly interesting to hear about the structure and content of conservation training programmes in the Ukraine today, where there remain restrictions against conservators working on a freelance basis. It was remarked that destruction of cultural property is still seen there today with attempts to abolish remnants of the Soviet era.

Rebecca Rushfield (New York City and Associate Director, FAIC Oral History Project) presented on the immigration of European conservators to the US from the early 20th century to today. She drew on information from the Oral History Project, an initiative by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, begun in 1975 and containing transcripts of interviews with conservation professionals. She demonstrated the of role of professional networking in recent decades in enabling European conservators to take up posts in the US, but also the challenges experienced by the conservators who made the move, regarding visas, work permits and cultural transitions. She provided a glimpse of the wealth of material gathered by the Oral History Project, with the individual experiences of the conservators themselves.


The third session, ‘Art and Conflict’, opened with Morwenna Blewett (Worcester College and Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxofrd) on the subject of the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-committee (BIOS), composed of British government officials who were sent to Germany after the Second World War to report back on technical and scientific industries, including the manufacture of artists’ materials. Consulting information from manufacturers’ archives, including that of Winsor and Newton at the HKI, Blewett described how the advances of German industries were exploited in the years following the war through the internment of German scientists in Britain and their employment at institutions such as the National Gallery. The talk highlighted a striking example of forced migration that is rarely considered in the context of the horrors of the war.

Dr Roderick Bailey (Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Universityof Oxford) gave insight into the work of another British investigative group following the Second World War, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) sub-commission, who supported and educated the Greek authorities in the protection of ancient monuments such as the Parthenon and other buildings in the Acropolis, which had suffered many forms of damage during the war. However, illustrating the war damage sustained by a Jewish synagogue, Bailey also highlighted the limits of their work and the implications for the heritage of certain other cultural communities in wartime Greece.

Charlotte Bank (Art historian and independent curator) discussed the work of Syrian artists throughout the world, displaced by war from their homes. Through several case studies of artworks exhibited by the artists in several European cities, Bank showed how these individuals have used art as a platform to express their responses to their experiences and connect with their new cultural environments. However, she also warned of the ease with which viewers can become blind to all other interpretations of their work. Through highlighting their unique experiences and personalities, the talk served as a reminder to avoid the exploitation and pigeonholing of Syrian refugee artists as ‘war artists’.

On the second day, Dr Eckart Marchand (Warburg Institute/International Research Project Bilderfahrzeuge) kicked off the first session, ‘Materials and Techniques’, with his talk on the subject of Plaster of Paris, focusing on the Lucchinese figurinai, a community of peripatetic craftsmen from Barga who made popular plaster figurines (‘formatori’) and journeyed with their wares to Germany and America, where the craft gained particular prominence in the 19th century.  This was a remarkable example, recalling the mosaics discussed by Grossutti, of how a small craft local to a particular geographical area can spread and become an international phenomenon, its identity evolving along the way.

Felicia Gottman (Northumbria University) spoke about the role of migration within the cotton industry in 18th-century France, focusing on the career of textile manufacturer Jean-Claude Flachat, who imported workers from the Levant and expanded his industry exploiting the knowledge and technologies they brought with them. Gottman considered Flachat’s enterprise in the context of the Actor-Network Theory, focusing on the role of ‘non-traditional agencies’ – the cotton, the technologies, and the experiences of the workers – through which knowledge was transferred and developments ensued in cotton manufacture and trade.

Jenny Bulstrode’s paper (University of Cambridge) explored the many identities of copper, ranging from its elemental properties to its geographical source in the mines of Cornwall and Australia, its manifestation as trade tokens and ship hull sheathing, and its use in tribal masks. The talk demonstrated how copper has been exploited historically to advance technologies and cultures, and the distances the material has travelled between countries, from the depths of the Earth and through time. The talk highlighted that migration can refer to the changing identities of a given material as it migrates itself through time and between cultures.

Jacob Simon (National Portrait Gallery) discussed the impact of migration on the transfer of artists’ materials between countries from the 18th through to the 20th centuries. Simon documented the competition between manufacturers as materials were exported and supply chains for British and other European manufacturers established in several countries. He conveyed the complex exchange of influences and materials between British and foreign suppliers, which also impacted on where artists settled and how they chose to develop their art. Ultimately, Simon concluded that this last consideration comes down to the three factors of material quality, permanence, and price.

After lunch on the second day we had an excellent introduction to the collection of paintings at Murray Edwards College, which showcases over 500 works and represents the second largest collection in the world of contemporary women artists. Many of the paintings were on display around the college and we had a wonderful opportunity to explore.

Opening the final session, ‘Transmitting Ideas’, Karen French, representing the Walters Art Museum and colleagues Christine Sciaccia, Glenn Gates and Hae Min Park, gave a talk on the late medieval Ethiopian religious paintings currently undergoing technical research in a collaborative project at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Describing the popularity in Ethiopia of religious imagery and cults from the Western Christian church from the 15th century, French discussed the exchange of ideas with Italian painters brought to the country, focusing on the art icon painter Fre Seyon. French pointed out examples of the influence of Italian painting on aspects of the iconography, but also revealed interesting divergences regarding the materials and techniques.

Julia Brandt and her colleagues Isabel Wagner and Corinna Gramatke (Technical University Munich) presented new research, currently in progress, on the art of the Jesuits who populated South America in the 17th century, imposing their religion and art on the indigenous Guarani people. The cultural influence appears to have been strictly concentrated in one direction, unlike the exchanges featured in some of the other talks. This example of art and culture enforced on the people was an interesting comparison to the conscious decision to pursue western religious doctrine by the Ethiopian emperors discussed in the previous paper.

Esmee Schoutens and her colleagues Rosa Mulder and Janneke Sif Rutten (VU University, Amsterdam and University of Leiden) presented collaborative research undertaken recently into the geographical representation of artists in the collections at the Stedelijk Museum. Using digital software to collect and organise the data from the collection from 1896 (the Museum’s foundation date) to 2003, trends were noted that showed, for example, that artists from Eastern Europe were well represented but those from the Middle East were not. This led to more complicated questions including whether some artists’ work only appears in the collections because they were working at that time in a ‘geographically represented’ region. This ongoing research demonstrates the information that can be gleaned from a study of such a significant world-class collection of modern and contemporary art.

The opportunities for discussion, led excellently by all of the chairs – Vicky Sutcliffe and Sally Woodcock (Hamilton Kerr Institute), Dr Alexander Marr, Professor Simon Schaffer and Professor Mary Laven (University of Cambridge), and Dr Abbie Vandivere (Mauritshuis/University of Amsterdam) – resulted in the emergence of notable links between even the most divergent talks. We saw examples of migration across vast geographical distances and across time. We were shown how migrants have often been perceived or conveyed throughout history as a ‘package deal’ comprising the labour, experience, skills and technologies of their craft. It was emphasised how migration is rarely in a single direction, with cultural exchanges taking place and the existence of complex networks of artists and industries established between different cultures. Also demonstrated were the results of when migration is prohibited or enforced upon peoples, and we came to appreciate the many different situations that have led to migration – voluntary or otherwise – by artists, crafts and materials over the centuries. Perhaps most compelling was the revelation of the individual stories of the artists and innovators that have travelled throughout history; the anonymous voices known predominantly through artefacts and rarely acknowledged in the wake of more prominent historical figures.

Overall, at a time when words and phrases such as ‘take back control’, ‘borders’, and ‘independence’ are in constant repetition, and when migration is so often portrayed as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ phenomenon, it was refreshing to explore with the speakers its many possible definitions and faces, to challenge the notions of borders and peripheries, and reveal the more nuanced picture of migration that historical events, individuals and artefacts convey.

Closing remarks were given by Dr Spike Bucklow (Hamilton Kerr Institute), who highlighted that the conference demonstrated how much can be learnt when we cross disciplinary boundaries and hear from colleagues around the world working in different fields of conservation, technical art history, as well as history and art history, science and archaeology.


Katharine Waldron – 1st year Post Graduate Intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute

About the Author

After completing a BA in History of Art at the University of Warwick, Katharine graduated from The Courtauld Institute of Art in 2018 with a Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. One of her projects involved the conservation and technical research of a modified 17th-century harpsichord lid, leading to her third-year dissertation project which focused on the characterisation and deterioration of historical copper green glazes. She has worked for Katherine Ara Ltd. and completed paintings conservation internships with the National Trust, the House of Lords, the National Maritime Museum, the V&A, and the RCE in the Netherlands as a Zibby Garnett scholar. Among her current projects at the HKI, Katharine is involved with research into the pigments and techniques of medieval rood screens and church polychromy in East Anglia.

To contact Katharine:



Conference Review The 35th Gerry Hedley Student Symposium, Courtauld Institute of Art, 5 June 2017

On 5 June the students, interns and staff of the HKI attended the 35th Gerry Hedley Student Symposium, hosted by the Courtauld Institute of Art. This annual conference provides an opportunity for the students and interns of the three contributing conservation training programs (the Hamilton Kerr Institute, the Courtauld Institute and Northumbria University) to present their current research projects. This year, the HKI was proud to share the research of two third-year students and two second-year interns.

Amiel Clarke (third-year student) presented her work on the conservation and technical analysis of a painting that was recently re-attributed to the Bolognese artist Marcantonio Franceschini (1649-1729). The painting, entitled Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, is currently undergoing treatment at the HKI and over the last three years, Clarke has had the opportunity to examine the details of the artist’s technique in full. Particularly interesting were the findings offered through x-radiography and infrared reflectography of the painting, which showed significant compositional changes exemplified by alterations made to Hagar’s headdress and neckline. Clarke’s research serves as a textbook example of how the technical analysis of paintings can enhance our understanding of the artist’s process, whilst also aiding in the attribution of artworks.

Our second representative from the HKI, Michaela Straub (third-year student), further demonstrated our tradition of art technological study at the HKI through presenting her work on a fifteenth-century English retable, housed at Leeds Castle, Kent. In her talk, Straub showed us how the practice of reconstruction contributed to her understanding of the panel’s physicality and stages of painting. She reflected on the difficulties she faced when trying to carve and smooth the oak boards that she used for her reconstruction of the painting, whilst also detailing the process she adopted for the application of gold stenciling to the red-painted background. It was easy to see how the trials and errors of reconstructing an old master painting can contribute to a greater appreciation for the level of skill and mastery employed by these medieval craftsmen, and hopefully without sounding biased, I feel that Straub has done exceedingly well with her reconstruction.

The two interns representing the HKI were Camille Polkownik and Sarah Bayliss. Polkownik presented her research on how the physical structure of different qualities of lead white affects the handling of the pigment in oil paint. For her research Polkownik went so far as to make her own lead white through referencing historical recipes. Her success, along with the difficulties she faced in this task, demonstrated the considerable variety in the quality of lead white that is produced using these methods. Polkownik also reflected on the ways in which artists distinguished between the different grades of the pigment, noting that the painters’ scrutiny would have depended largely on empirical knowledge and experience, as opposed to any understanding of the pigment’s crystalline structure.

Sarah Bayliss was the final HKI representative to share her research, which involved the treatment and technical analysis of two panel paintings attributed to the esteemed Tudor period miniaturist, Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547-1619). The two portraits appear as a pendant pair, featuring Queen Elizabeth I and her ambassador to the French court, Sir Amias Paulet. Bayliss presented the main findings of her in-depth technical study, including the results of dendrochronological examination of the two panels, which pinpoints their origin in France. Through comparing specific painterly traits seen in Hilliard’s miniatures, as well as  in the large-scale Pelican and Phoenix portraits of Queen Elizabeth also thought to be by Hilliard, Bayliss was able to put forward a convincing argument for the authorship of these previously unstudied paintings.

The symposium also included talks by five students in their final year of the Postgraduate Diploma course in the Conservation of Easel Paintings at the Courtauld Institute of Art, as well as two students from the MA Conservation of Fine Art programme at Northumbria University. The research presented by the remaining speakers ranged from a study of the influence of metal stearates on the water sensitivity of modern oil paints (Donatella Banti, Courtauld Institute) to the use of gamboge in nineteenth-century watercolour pigment mixtures (Alice Woodward, Northumbria University). Several talks focused on the material study of paintings. Cerys Fry (Courtauld Institute) and Diana Jaskierny (Courtauld Institute) presented their research on selected groups of paintings housed at Knole House in Kent, while Martha Swabey (Northumbria University) shared her study of a series of marouflaged, oil on canvas  wall panels in the Music Room of the Brighton Royal Pavilion.

Two talks in particular stood out. Annie Cornwall (Courtauld Institute) presented her informative and original research on the possible methods for cleaning wax-containing paintings by George Stubbs. Cornwall’s study included producing samples based on traditional methods described in eighteenth-century treatises, followed by cleaning tests using free solvents, solvent emulsions, as well as aqueous cleaning solutions developed by Richard Wolbers. The various cleaning reagents were also further tested using agarose gels and Evolon® microfilament textile. After graduating from the Courtauld Institute in July 2017, Cornwall will continue her research into the cleaning of Stubbs’ wax paintings through a postgraduate fellowship at the Yale Centre for British Art. It will be interesting to see the results of her future research, which will no doubt be of use to any practicing restorer aiming to clean a wax-containing painting.

The last presenter to receive mention here is Molly Hughes-Hallett (Courtauld Institute), who shared her research on the applicability of Micro-RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) as a tool for the documentation and conservation of modern and contemporary paintings. RTI is a non-invasive method of analysis that can be used to document and visualize the surface texture of art objects. Hughes-Hallett’s project focused on the applicability of the micro-RTI system developed by Paul Messier, which uses a digital microscope and miniature lighting array to study surface textures in detail over small areas. Case studies were used from the modern and contemporary collection at the Yale University Art Gallery, as well as the Courtauld Gallery and privately owned works in London. The study provided yet another new and interesting example of how advancing technology can be used as an aid to understand and document the condition of paintings. In September 2017, Molly will be joining us at the HKI as a post-graduate intern! We all look forward to hearing more about her research and past experience in person.

All of the research presented at the symposium served to showcase the talented young professionals that emerge from the various training institutes each year. As always, the standard of research was high and showed the ambition and dedication of the students and interns who presented it. The 36th Gerry Hedley Student Symposium will be hosted at Northumbria University in May or June  2018. I look forward to seeing what exciting new research will be presented then.

Emma Jansson, 1st year Post-Graduate Intern

About the author

Emma Jansson graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016, having completed the three-year Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She also holds a BA in History of Art/Archaeology and Japanese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Emma has experience working in both private conservation studios in London and public institutions. Her most recent placements include internships at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as an in situ project at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace. She is also involved in the technical analysis of artworks. Her final-year thesis at the Courtauld Institute focused on the materials and technique of the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Emma is continuing her interest in technical art history at the HKI, where she is involved in several research projects, including a study on the uptake of artificial ultramarine by British artists in the nineteenth century.  

To contact Emma:

Conference Review: La Pintura Sobre Cobre, Paintings on copper and other metal plates

La Pintura Sobre Cobre: Paintings on copper and other metal plates

Polytechnic University of Valencia, 27-28 January 2017

The panel of key speakers at the conference. From the left: Isabel Horovitz, Nico Broers, Lydia-Chara Pavlopoulou, Anne Schmid, Jørgen Wadum and Alison Stock (© Chung).

The conference ‘Paintings on copper and other metal plates: Production, Degradation and Conservation Issues’ was held at the Polytechnic University of Valencia from the 27 to the 28 January 2017. The two-day conference provided a unique opportunity to explore and discuss the material history of metal-based supports, as well as their unique conservation issues.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Isabel Horovitz (The Painting Conservation Studio, London), a longstanding expert on the history and conservation of copper supports. Her talk provided an overview of the use of metal supports by artists in Europe. The practice commenced with the experimental adoption of copper plates in sixteenth century Italy, and continued even during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as seen in the work of artists such as William Blake, Angelica Kauffman and Lucian Freud. In discussing the history of copper supports, Ms. Horovitz also addressed the manufacture and preparation of copper plates for painting, including the hammering of the metal itself, as well as artists’ application of ground layers.

The artist’s process of making in relation to paintings on copper was further elucidated by Alison Stock (City & Guilds of London Art School, London), who gave a talk about her reconstruction of Hendrick van Balen’s Adoration of the Shepherds (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The talk discussed the preparation of the copper support based on instructions derived from historic treatises. Through a thorough technical examination of van Balen’s painting, Ms. Stock aimed to create a replica with a similar material structure to the original work.

Alison Stock presenting her technical research and reconstruction of Hendrick van Balen’s painting ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ (© Chung).

Jørgen Wadum (CATS, Copenhagen) also delivered a talk that delved into the raw materiality of paintings on copper, with focus on the trade of copper and paintings on copper within the Antwerp market during the seventeenth century. Interestingly, Spain became a major destination for the export of paintings on copper, from whence they continued their journey to the Spanish colonies in South America. Although it was not speculated by Wadum, one cannot help but relate the popularity of these Antwerpian copper-based artworks to the comments made by Horovitz regarding the early appreciation of copper plates as a durable support for paintings. Indeed, when found in good condition, paintings on copper seem to have an almost ageless surface, as if it has “just left the artist’s studio”.

The materiality of copper paintings was also explored by Anne Schmid (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), who discussed the interesting case of ‘silvered’ copper plates. The examination of copper supports has revealed this rare variation, whereby a silver-coloured metallic layer was applied to the surface intended for painting. Analysis of these layers has shown that these ‘silvered’ layers often consist of tin or tin-lead alloy. Through her research, Schmid was able to provide a number of hypotheses regarding the purpose of these metallic coatings, with the most compelling conclusion being that the practice derived from the crockery industry in Rome where similar coatings were applied to prevent the green degradation products associated with copper objects.

Additional talks were also given by Nico Broers (École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc, Liège), Lydia-Chara Pavlopoulou (freelance conservator, Athens) and Laura Fuster López (Polytechnic University, Valencia). All three speakers focused on the physical and chemical characteristics of the copper support, as well as its interaction with overlying oil paint films. Both Broers and Pavlopoulou addressed the formation of copper carboxylates at the interface between the copper plate and ground layer. Such layers have been identified on a number of oil paintings on copper, which has led to the hypothesis that the formation of copper soaps contributes to the delamination issues often associated with these supports.

The final talk was given by Professor Leslie Carlyle (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa) during the second day of the conference. In her talk, Prof. Carlyle presented the results of two MA theses undertaken at the University of Lisbon. The first thesis was conducted by Maria Leonor Oliveira, focusing on the consolidation of oil paintings on copper. The basis for Oliveira’s research was an undated unsigned oil painting entitled ‘The Visitation’, which exhibited severe flaking.

In order to identify the most appropriate consolidant for her treatment, Oliveira tested several well-known synthetic resins (Paraloid B72, Mowilith 20, BEVA 371b and Laropal A81), chosen for their exclusion of water-based components. The adhesion of the polymers to copper surfaces was tested through coating small pieces of copper with the various resins, as well as attaching paint flakes to a copper surface. Based on the results of these tests, both BEVA 371b and Laropal A81 were excluded as possible consolidants due to their undesirable physical properties upon drying (BEVA 371b formed a very thick, soft coating, whilst Laropal A81 formed a very thin and brittle film). Out of the remaining polymers tested, Paraloid B72 was preferred over Mowilith 20, as it formed a film with greater hardness and tenacity.         

The second thesis discussed in Carlyle’s talk was the work of Daniel Vega, whose research centered on the development of an infill formula suitable for oil paintings on copper. Due to the corrosive action of water on copper, traditional aqueous fill materials are often considered unsuitable for filling on copper supports. For the same reason, beeswax-containing fillers such as Gamblin® Pigmented Wax-Resin sticks should also be avoided, as the fatty acid component of the filling material facilitates the production of copper carboxylates and thereby promotes further corrosion.

Vega explored the physical properties of various microcrystalline and synthetic resin mixtures in order to produce a filling material that had the desired characteristics in terms of both handling and reversibility. The results of the research showed that formulations made with Techniwax 9426 and Regalrez 1094 or 1126 had the desired qualities. Both components have an acid value of zero and are therefore likely to be chemically stable in relation to a copper support. In addition, both materials are readily available to conservation professionals and practitioners can easily replicate the recipes outlined by Vega. The research summaries presented by Prof. Carlyle provided clear and practical information, which will no doubt be of use to conservators dealing with the treatment of oil paintings on copper in the future.

In addition to the talks presented, the audience was also given short overviews of the posters on display at the conference. The posters presented a range of topics including the technical investigation of a number of artworks on copper, as well as specific conservation concerns. Sally Higgs (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) presented her technical examination of a portrait of cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle by Scipione Pulzone (Courtauld Gallery). Ms. Higgs evaluation of Pulzone’s portrait mirrored the observations made by Horovitz in her keynote speech; namely that the choice of copper as a support was a conscious choice made by the artist in order to create a durable, everlasting image.

Overall, the two-day conference provided a dynamic forum where the unexplored issues of metal supports could be discussed and future research questions could be posed. Our knowledge of the production, use and degradation patterns of paintings on copper has come a long way since the ‘Copper as Canvas’ exhibition was held at Phoenix Art Museum in 1998. However, perhaps the clearest outcome of the La Pintura Sobre Cobre conference was the need for further investigation into the physical and chemical characteristics, as well as potential conservation methods for this relatively under-studied, yet fascinating artists’ material.

Emma Jansson, 1st year intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.

Emma Jansson graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016, having completed the three-year Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She also holds a BA in History of Art/Archaeology and Japanese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Emma has experience working in both private conservation studios in London and public institutions. Her most recent placements include internships at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as an in situ project at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace. She is also involved in the technical analysis of artworks. Her final-year thesis at the Courtauld Institute focused on the materials and technique of the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Emma is continuing her interest in technical art history at the HKI, where she is involved in several research projects, including a study on the uptake of artificial ultramarine by British artists in the nineteenth century.  

To contact Emma:

BAPCR 2016 Conference Review

Wallace Collection © Chung

The BAPCR (British Association of Paintings Conservator-Restorers) conference on nineteenth-century painting practice and conservation took place at the Wallace Collection on the 7th of October, 2016.

The keynote speaker for the first session was Sally Woodcock (Hamilton Kerr Institute), who is currently undertaking doctoral research on the Charles Roberson archive and the supply of painting materials in Britain between 1820 and 1920. The archive is currently housed at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. The findings shared by Ms Woodcock opened our eyes to the less familiar materials that nineteenth-century painters ordered and used. In some cases, these materials could easily be misinterpreted as later restoration campaigns, such as panel backed stretchers and double-lined canvases. In addition, it was also interesting to see documented evidence of the extent of the restoration services provided in Britain during this period, exemplified by procedures such as the enlargement of artworks during painting, which was surprisingly a regular request for colourmen at the time.

Sally Woodcock starting her presentation © Chung

Jacob Simon (National Portrait Gallery) shared his recent research on the increased employment of conservators by the growing public collections in the nineteenth-century. Mr Simon provided case studies of major galleries in London at the time, which helped demonstrate the growing recognition of paintings conservators in the museum sector. The expanding interest and importance of environmental conditions in relation to the care of artworks was mentioned by Mr Simon and was later discussed in depth by Nicola Costaras.

Nicola Costaras (Victoria and Albert Museum) addressed a number of nineteenth-century documentary sources, which provide insight to the early views of museum curators and conservators regarding the environmental conditions at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). During the nineteenth-century, the Head of Collections was observing and monitoring drying crack patterns in paintings in order to determine whether heat and light contributed to their development. The talk gave us an understanding of the various views and concerns that existed in relation to the premature formation of drying cracks in paintings. Furthermore, we were able form an appreciation of nineteenth-century conservators’ curiosity and desire to understand this phenomenon, as well as the most efficient ways to prevent it.

Dr. Leslie Carlyle (author of The Artist’s Assistant and Associate Professor at the New  University of Lisbon) shed light on the importance of her new research, which could lead to changes in the ways we observe paintings. Dr. Carlyle presented the main findings of a thirty-year long research project, which were published as a part of the MOLART Fellowship project (1999), which draws upon evidence found in historical documents, painting case studies and historically accurate reconstructions.

Nineteenth-century paintings are notorious for the difficulties they present during varnish removal. Lidwien Speleers (Dordrecht Museum) shared her experience in treating a painting by Jacob Maris which displayed solvent sensitivity. Drawing upon documentary evidence and empirical testing, Ms Speleers was able to predict the solvent sensitive passages within the painting and achieve successful treatment.

Artists’ reworkings represent another difficulty when it comes to the treatment and interpretation of nineteenth-century paintings. Rosalind Whitehouse (private conservator) shared a series of observations she made during the treatment of a nineteenth-century equestrian group portrait. The painting showed complicated layer structure consisting of dirt layers between painting campaigns, indicating that the painting had been worked on over a long period of time. Roxane Sperber (Yale Center for British Art) discussed the treatment of a painting by the British artist John Linnell, with particular focus on the artist’s practice of ‘retouching’ his own paintings. Ms Sperber found documentary evidence recording Linnell’s practice of reworking his paintings in order to please his patrons. Such reworkings have previously been interpreted as restoration campaigns, signifying the importance of understanding the methods of artists when undertaking conservation treatments. Michaela Straub (Hamilton Kerr Institute) also shared her research and experience of treating two paintings by the Royal Academy artist Alfred East. Ms Straub was able to detect areas that had been reworked by the artist through a thorough technical study. The research was also aided by literary references in the form of a treatise written by East himself, as well as the artist’s account in the Roberson Archive.

Michaela Straub presenting her talk on East © Chung

The volume of artists’ writings and contemporary documentary sources referred to throughout the conference served as a reminder of the Victorian painters’ desire to document their observations and thoughts on painting processes. For example, Adele Wright (Tate) gave us a close look at the writings of Eugène Delacroix and his immediate contemporaries in order to understand the innovative thoughts that lead to his specific painting technique. During her time as a student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute Ms Wright produced a reconstruction of Delacroix’s The Lion and the Snake, which provided insight into the artist’s technique and also helped inform the treatment of the painting.

The remaining speakers presented technical studies, which showed the varying painting techniques of the time. Nienke Woltman and Suzanne Veldink (Rijksmuseum) presented a technical survey of thirteen paintings by the nineteenth-century Dutch painter George Hendrick Breitner. The paintings form part of Breitner’s famous ‘kimono’ series, which was exhibited for the first time at the Rijksmuseum in 2016 (Breitner: Girl in a Kimono, Feb 20-May 22 2016). Fabio Frezzato (CSG Palladio s.r.l., Vicenza) and his colleagues presented the technical findings of a study involving forty-eight artworks by the Italian painter Giovanni Boldini, who was active in London and Paris during the mid-nineteenth century. In addition, Nele Bordt and Katy Sanders-Blessley (Royal Collection Trust) carried out research on the unique collection of portraits by the Austrian painter Rudolf Swoboda. Another talk focused on the research conducted by Gabriella Macaro et al. (The National Gallery), which involved revisiting existing technical research on paintings by the Barbizon School artists at the National Gallery, London. Ms Macaro’s research built upon previous findings by Ashok Roy, whilst also taking advantage of the more advanced analytical equipment now available at the National Gallery. Her talk was completed by Mrs Hayley Tomlinson, who spoke about the manuals on the practice of painting written by Ernest Victor Hareux, artists and teacher in the late 19th century. Since he was close to the artists of the Barbizon school, he had prime information on their practice and painting techniques.

The speakers highlighted the need for finding patterns by collating more information on nineteenth-century paintings. Methods of how conservators could share information, and the importance of funding for research projects were also discussed .

Wallace Collection, view from Manchester Square © Chung

It is very exciting to think of the years to come, as more nineteenth-century paintings will be coming into our conservation studios for treatment, providing a great opportunity for in-depth research. The postprints of this conference are expected to be published during the summer of 2017 and will contain the papers that the researchers presented.

Jae Youn Chung – 1st year Post Graduate Intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute

Ms Jae Youn Chung recently graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Easel Paintings at The Courtauld Institute of Art. She moved to London in 2013 after graduating from Ewha Womans University (Seoul, South Korea) the same year, with combined degrees of BFA in Paintings and Ceramic Arts, BA in Art History and Professional English.

To contact Jae Youn Chung:

Review of 2016 ENCoRE Conference, Cambridge

ENCORE Conference, held at Wolfson College, Cambridge. (© 2016 Polkownik)

ENCoRE is a network organisation of European higher education institutions operating in the field of conservation-restoration. It was founded in 1997 with the principal objective to promote and develop research and education in the conservation of cultural heritage. The conference held in Cambridge on April 13th 2016 was entitled “ENCoRE: On Practice in Conservation-Restoration Education”. Two more days followed, called General Assembly, where the different actors talked about the current issues in conservation education.

As the title says, education is a major focal point of ENCoRE. Another important point that was raised that day was the importance of research and its relationship to education. In many other fields, it is easy to imagine these two linked. But for us conservators, linking lab research to studio practice is not always easy.

A short summary of each talk follows:

Key-note speaker René Larssen, associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, stressed in his presentation the importance of doing research consistently, in small practical projects. Through two case studies, he showed how simple observations of alterations can be translated into hypotheses that can then be investigated by researchers and scientists. In short, early and systematic communication between conservators and researchers leads to a faster problem solving and thus a better understanding of the aging of our treatments on works of art. Another very important point he raised was the need to adopt standardized terms through the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), an idea that was backed up by Leslie Carlyle during the Q&A. She illustrated her argument with the need for standardisation of UV filters so that photos of artworks and cross sections can be compared between institutions.

Sebastian Dobrusskin, Professor for Conservation and Restoration of Graphic Art and Photography at Bern University of the Arts, described the structure of the conservation programme at his university and mentioned the difficulties of communication related to the three national languages of Switzerland: German, French and Italian, as well as new research programs more adapted to students needs.

Elisabeth Peacock, Professor at the University of Gothenburg, explained how she designed a Research Methods Course from scratch, after receiving complaints from students feeling unprepared for independent research. After attending an ICOM Summer Course in 2013, in four months she designed a structured course oriented towards problem-solving learning formats, so students can become familiar with research methods while benefitting from collaboration with students from different backgrounds and levels of ability.

Alison Heritage, ICCROM, talked about the importance of educators in promoting research. Heritage science creates cultural values and links various fields together, and in her opinion, collaboration is the key element to success as a discipline. She also acknowledges that teamwork can be challenging due to lack of trust between individuals with vast differences in personalities or culture.

Like Peacock, Lecturer in Conservation at the University of Oslo Douwtje van der Meulen put together a course package and worked with students to improve it. The course was centred around general skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, basic research skills and communication. Her teaching philosophy is called “active learning” as inspired by Confucius’ quote: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will learn, involve me and I will understand.” By teaching students how to gain knowledge through research, then discussing their results and using their findings in an essay, she noticed that the information was better assimilated since the students could see how to use it in their practice.

Key-note speaker Leslie Carlyle, currently Professor at the University of Lisbon presented case studies demonstrating the gap between the information available in conservation and the practice. She notably pointed out how long it takes for practices to be properly studied and written about, choosing the example of the nylon coating (used on everything and anything since it was so popular in the 1960’s) and diammonium citrate for the cleaning of paintings. She also demonstrated the passage of time between the publication of literature and its assimilation into practice. In a case study, she spoke of conservators ignoring the literature or not having access to it, and choosing to use products that were no longer recommended, creating long-lasting conservation issues for objects. Finally, she mentioned the latest conference on Lead Soaps, held in March 2016 at the Rijksmuseum. This conference was, in her opinion, the first one where conservators and scientists fully collaborated in order to get a better understanding of this degradation phenomenon and to find solutions to the problems created by these soaps. As conservators are doing more and more research, they elevate themselves to the level of scientists, which helps them better formulate questions to get faster answers.

Boris Kvasnica, Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, explained the structure of the conservation programme and the importance of collaboration between different fields, illustrating his point with case studies of students in conservation, chemistry and art history successfully working together.

Finally, the last speaker was Silvia García Fernández-Villa, associate professor at the University of Madrid, stressed the importance of including students in research projects to help them get familiar with specific materials and analysis methods used in conservation science. She used, as an example, projects past and ongoing dealing with synthetic polymers and their ageing. Not only were the students improving their knowledge in chemistry and science, they could apply this newfound knowledge to practical cases, notably contemporary artworks.

Panel discussion at the end of the day. (© 2016 Polkownik)

The talks ended with a panel discussion, which raised questions like “what is conservation research” or “how much should research be stressed in the conservation-restoration curriculum?” but these questions will not be discussed in length in this article. Participants then enjoyed a glass of wine while gathering around the posters designed by students.

In conclusion, this conference, although oriented towards teachers and how to make their courses better, was very interesting for students and young graduates. This forum showed that teachers are constantly trying to improve conservation-restoration coursework, despite little means, little time and heavy responsibilities and expectations from schools and universities.

Camille Polkownik – 1st year Post Graduate Intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute

The students posters will be soon posted on CeROArt (the link will be added as soon as it becomes available).

Ms Camille Polkownik graduated with a Master Degree in the Conservation and Restoration of Paintings in 2014, from the École nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre in Brussels . She also has a Bachelor degree in the Conservation and Restoration of Painted Works (2011) from the Superior School of Fine Arts, in Avignon, France. She has interned in the Royal Institute for Culture Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Belgium), the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice (France), in private studios and at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).

To contact Camille Polkownik :