The Conservation Department’s primary mission is to ensure the integrity of the objects in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ collections through preventive conservation and remedial treatments.
The conservation of the Museum’s collections is rendered more complex given the diverse nature of the works, both in terms of the types of objects and the vast array of materials they are made from. As a result, the Museum’s Conservation Department is composed of conservators and technicians with expertise in various areas of specialization, such as works on paper, paintings, sculpture and the decorative arts, as well as installations and digital works.
Thanks to the expertise of these highly trained professionals, the Museum can fulfill its responsibilities with regard to the works in its own collections, both for exhibition in the Museum’s galleries and as loans to other institutions. The Museum is also in a position to care for the many works of art it receives on loan for its temporary exhibitions.
This large masterpiece by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), a French follower of Caravaggio, underwent a major conservation treatment in preparation for the first monographic exhibition of the artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The emotionally intense painting is one of Valentin’s last works and was executed at the peak of his artistic career.
The painting’s appearance and legibility had been compromised by centuries of wear and poor restorations. An in-depth study of the work, including a detailed technical examination and scientific analysis, was conducted at the Canadian Conservation Institute in order to better understand the structure of the painting and the artist’s working methods. An important aspect of the study was to resolve whether certain incomplete compositional elements were the result of past damage or had been left unfinished by the artist.
In order to reveal the original paint surface, the treatment included removing all layers of dirt, discoloured varnish and darkened retouching. The poor condition of the original paint and the non finito aspect of the work required a particularly restrained and sensitive approach to inpainting. Losses were concealed and areas of abrasion selectively diminished, but numerous compositional changes were left apparent.
The challenge, which extended for a period of eleven months, was to achieve a balance between well-preserved areas of the painting, those irreversibly damaged and the unfinished areas, restoring coherence, legibility of the image and compositional harmony. The painting will be put back on display in May 2017.
De Witte is one of the most renowned Dutch painters of architectural interiors. His paintings, punctuated with depictions of everyday life, are characterized by lofty spaces, orderly perspectival effects, and a careful rendering of the quality and effect of daylight.
The goal of the treatment was to correct previous restoration work, notably by removing a thick layer of synthetic varnish that had become opaque, relining the painting with stable materials, and shaping new linen inserts on puncture holes to ensure a smoother surface texture.
The treatment was complemented by an in-depth technical analysis at the Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, which provided a better understanding of the artist’s technique. Ultraviolet, infrared and radiographic examinations, as well as paint cross-section analysis, identified the materials and layering technique and confirmed the presence of original coloured glazes.
The painting is set in a new custom-made reproduction of a seventeenth-century Dutch auricular frame, of a more elaborate design than the auricular mirror frame above the young woman in the painting. This frame was made and graciously donated to the Museum by John Davies Framing Ltd of London.