by Oriana Montemurro, Art Conservator
In Stones of Venice John Ruskin wrote, “what we want art to do for us is to stay what is fleeting. Immortalize the things that have no duration.” In large part, that is what has led Americans to rediscover the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when artists believed that legitimate art could be created from the descriptive portrayal of families and neighborhoods.
William Sergeant Kendall was one such talented, well thought of artist and specialized in painting his daughters and wife. He was aware of the growing dominance of Impressionism and modern art, but he continued painting his family utilizing the classic influence of the 19th century. Kendall’s adoption of a nonspecific light source that eliminated most shadows removed him from the impressionist influences that so many of his American contemporaries embraced. It is probable that he arrived at this technique by observing the diffused light in canvases of Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose work he admitted he liked.
In this photograph is the oil painting by Kendall titled, “The Artist’s Wife and Daughters” (60” x 40” without the frame) which was consigned to FACL by the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah for art conservation – restoration treatments.
When we received this very lovely large painting in our facility the grime, the discolored varnish and the extensive craquelure were distracting the viewer’s eye from the composition and beauty of the painting.
Grime and discolored varnish make a painting look dull and flat. In addition, the yellowed varnish causes an optical shift in the colors: pinks disappear, purples turn to brown, blues morph into greens and reds look more orange. With these kinds of color shifts, you can imagine how far from the original intent of the artist a yellowed varnish can alter a painting! In the case of this painting, the delicate skin tone colors were drastically shifted. The gray grime combined with the yellowed varnish causes the painting to lose depth of field and contrast making the composition look more like a two dimensional poster.
The severe cracking patterns disturbed the harmonic reading of the composition. In this case, the painting had not begun to flake yet, but cracking on paintings, in general, eventually leads to this condition. This painting was, however, in an advanced stage of cracking and the deformations made it very hard to enjoy Kendall’s genius.
A careful cleaning of the gray film and the removal of the old varnish revealed the original colors of the artist and gave the painting back its classic look. The cracking patterns and distortions (cupping) were treated with a lining, an extra support on the back of the painting, giving more strength to the original canvas to hold down flat the cracks.
The art conservation work done on this painting was guided by a respect for the artist’s intent with colors and painting techniques. No color was removed during cleaning and no original brush strokes were flattened or damaged in any way. The surface of the painting, after the art conservation treatments, was as the artist intended.
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“The Artist’s Wife and Daughters” is part of the permanent collection at the Springville Museum of Art, Utah’s first museum for the visual fine arts. Dedicated as a “Sanctuary of Beauty and a Temple of Contemplation” by David O. McKay, the museum houses nearly 3,000 works; 2,000 of which are Utah art. Twentieth Century Russian-Soviet Socialist Realism, an impressive collection of 150 years of Utah fine art, and American Realist art comprise the permanent collection. The museum is a key promoter and contributor to the arts in Utah, with over 15 exhibitions annually. For more information on this painting go to the Springville Museum of Art website at http://springvilleartmuseum.org/collections/browse.html?x=artist&artist_id=75
We at FACL are going to miss having this painting in the lab when we return it to the museum. Every detail of this painting is done with wonderful quality and the expressions on the faces of the wife and daughters were good company. You can sit and look at this painting for a long time.
Rita Wright, Springville Museum of Art Director
made this short testimonial after the delivery:
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