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News Student Blog: From Rauschenberg to Dürer, and back

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Left: Much of Jennifer's summer research used archive material held by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Photo: Francine Snyder. Right: The value of archival records, including George Stout’s handwritten notes, continue to be a valuable resource at the ISGM and are informing the life history of paintings Jennifer is researching and treating. Photo: Jennifer Myers.

By mid-August, I had finished my Summer Work Project in New York City and was preparing for a switch in gears of conservation experience. My summer was centered around exploring theories associated with conservation of modern and contemporary artworks, primarily through work with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Voices in Contemporary Art. It was a summer full of intense looking at and thinking about early mid-century paintings by Rauschenberg, with a focus on how and why to document and preserve the (often) elusive intangible aspects of artworks.

Left: Before treatment image of Bartolomeo Veneto’s Girl with a Lute (1520). Photo: Jennifer Myers. Right: Jennifer removed varnish layers from the surface using free solvents and rolled cotton swabs. Photo: Kaeley Ferguson.

My third year started in September with an internship in Boston split between the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) and Gianfranco Pocobene Studio, both supervised by Gianfranco Pocobene. Right away, I found myself knee-deep in a wide-range of amazing projects that would exercise the examination, research, and writing muscles developed over the summer and my two on-site years at WUDPAC, and also integrate technical and hands-on treatment skills.

My first major ISGM project comes from the Titian Room and is an early 16th-century Italian panel painting. Bartolomeo Veneto’s A Girl with a Lute was painted during a time of increasing demand for secular portraiture in Northern Italy. One exciting aspect of this project is the opportunity to read George Stout’s examination and treatment notes (he treated the painting between the 1930s and 1950s). These beautifully written (though often difficult-to-read) notes provide keen insight into the materials used to preserve paintings, and at times, the rationales associated with treatment steps taken. I will be investigating A Girl with a Lute’s material components and structure through x-radiography, cross-section analysis, and x-ray fluorescence analysis. 

​Left: View of the southwest corner of the Titian Room at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Right: Visiting contract paintings conservator, Al Brewer (right), and ISGM paintings conservator, Gianfranco Pocobene (left), examining the panel painting, Christ Carrying the Cross (1505-10), Giovanni Bellini. Photo: Jennifer Myers.

Insects had previously eaten parts of the wood panel, and extensive worm tunnel damage was filled and retouched 85 years ago by George Stout. These repairs had become more visible over time and additionally, the multiple thick synthetic coatings he applied to the surface had clouded and were obscuring details of the painting. After discussing my treatment proposal with Gianfranco and the William and Lia Poorvu Curator of Collection, Nat Silver, I removed the surface coatings, and will be adjusting the fills, inpainting losses, and applying a new saturating varnish to visually harmonize the composition.

During my first week at ISGM, I was introduced to Al Brewer, retired conservator from the Royal Collection Trust in Windsor, and specialist in the structural treatment of panel paintings. He was brought to the Gardner to perform the structural treatment of another 16th-century panel painting in the Titian Room, Christ Carrying the Cross (1505-10), attributed to Giovanni Bellini. The painting was released from its constrained state and allowed to return to its natural curvature, through Al’s careful treatment to remove the non-original cradle. I am also assisting Gianfranco with the examination of another panel painting from 1520s, Albrecht Dürer’s Man in a Fur Coat. It is a such a treat to learn about three different panel painting treatments at the same time!  

​Left: WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Jennifer Myers removing surface debris and grime from an acrylic painting at Gianfranco Pocobene Studio. Orlyn (2004) by David Palmer was damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Maria on the island of St. Martin’s last year. Photo: Gianfranco Pocobene. Right: Jennifer setting down lifting paint using thinned adhesive and a hot air pen on The Snail (1941) by Leon Kelly, at Gianfranco Pocobene Studio. Photo: Gianfranco Pocobene.

In addition to my museum work, I am so excited to be involved with a variety of private practice projects at Gianfranco Pocobene Studio. Activities have ranged from collaboratively drafting a proposal for the treatment of a public collection of paintings, treating a contemporary acrylic painting damaged by a hurricane last year on the island of St. Martins, structural work on a selection of mid-century abstract paintings, and much more! My third-year internship is presenting me with countless opportunities for personal and professional growth. One of the things I appreciate most is being able to navigate the examination and treatment of paintings within a museum and in private and gallery owners’ collections, as well as artworks that live in non-museum public spaces. So much has already happened in just a few weeks; I can’t imagine what else the next year will bring!

— Jennifer Myers, WUDPAC Class of 2020

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Jennifer Myers discusses applying her training to collections as wide-ranging as those from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Voices in Contemporary Art, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Jennifer Myers discusses applying her training to collections as wide-ranging as those from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Voices in Contemporary Art, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489