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.
To see a short time lapse video of cleaning a painting, click on this link to go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyjI3rgCcF0 Leave a comment and click on the THUMBS UP!
“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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Hey! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give
a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your posts.
Thanks a lot!
Very nice, he is one of the most brilliant artists, I love his work. Thanks for helping his work last longer.
I really love this topic and I also love paintings. I remember studying this artist in my art history classes in college! So cool to see this post. I never knew the details on this one until i read your post. Good job!
I enjoy going to that museum and he was a brilliant and fascinating artist. Thanks for this great info as usual Scott 🙂
I remember learning about him in art class in school. He had a very fascinating life.
Kendall was absolutely brilliant.
This is a wonderful and gorgeous painting. Thanks also for the write up.
This is extremely exciting since I live so close to that museum and Sargent was a brilliant artist. Thanks so very much for posting this.
I will be checking out that museum soon, thanks for this amazing post Scott. You do great work!
This is the first time I have ever read so much about him. This is fascinating info, and he had a beautiful family.
His paintings are incredible and he was gifted. I studied his art work at school as well. He had several paintings of his family from what I remember.
Thank you for such a great, perfect job on the painting. Our staff is very enthusiastic about the results of your art conservation work. We cannot say enough good things about your work and the beauty of the painting. There are so many details that we never noticed before. Its better than we had hoped for.
I don’t know much about his work however he was a brilliant artist. Thanks for the write up.
We couldn’t be more pleased with the result of the art conservation work FACL did on this painting. The painting’s final appearance was perfect and exceeded our expectations. Thank you so much and we look forward to planning with you the rest of this years projects.
Scott your work is amazing, so happy to see you working on this!
I can imagine you will miss having this painting at the FACL Scott, it is a gorgeous painting!
This is brilliant stuff you put out here Scott. Thank you once again. I admire you for what you do.
Wonderful videos and excellent article. Scott you are admirable.
I always have been fascinated with 19th century art. Thanks for sharing this. Your work is amazing.
I love this work, thanks Scott.
Scott, your work is absolutely amazing. Thanks for providing nothing but the best.
Ur The Best in your field Scott!
We live 5 minutes away from that museum… Tell me when you will be there and I’ll stop by and say hi.
Hi Lynnette, I’m not sure of the date but it will probably be a day or so after the 18th of Feb.
We go to the museum all the time and we can hardly wait to see the painting!. Your loss will be our gain:-) I plan on sitting and staring just as Oriana suggested. Thanks for your efforts.
I love Sargent’s paintings, and remember so many beautiful portrayals of his wife and daughters which I studied in my American art history class. How cool that you are working on this, Scott!!! (And by the way, even though he supposedly stayed “classical” in his painting approach, he still feel semi-impressionistic to me, at the same time. What do you think?)
Nanci, there was a group or movement of artists that bridged the classical 19th century realist style and the more flowing styles and broken up brush strokes of Impressionism. After all, they were a bit under pressure for their paintings to look modern and not old fashioned. Colin Campbell Cooper was a trust fund kid that traveled internationally painting and finally settled in Santa Barbara. Perhaps the most famous was John Singer Sargent. I absolutely love this style of painting.
I love it too, Scott! So amazing that you are working on this!!!
My favorite subject matter of this semi realistic style was what became to be known as the “Orientalists.” The paintings of the Middle East, and Mediterranean ports are mesmerizing.
Nineteenth century realist art is my favorite style. It was, indeed, a snapshot in time.
Hi, what a nice painting. I remember studying his work in my art history classes. This wasn’t the only painting of his wife and children was it? Thanks for the write up.
Thanks for leaving a comment Judson. Kendall painted many paintings of his family which were very well thought of by his fans. This is a particularly nice one.