In 2016 the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art took possession of a promised gift from the Hartford-Tandstad Collection. The collection, consisting of approximately 200 works of art, includes drawings, paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. A stand-out work, a 17th century portrait by Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569-1622), portrays the French King Louis XIII as a young boy. In December 2016 the work was removed from the gallery for conservation treatment. In February 2017 the newly conserved work returned to the gallery.
Pourbus came from a family of painters and is best known for executing portraits and portrait groups of the European Royal Court. He became court painter in Mantua in 1600 and to Marie de Medici in Paris in 1609. Our Pourbus painting was purchased at a Christie’s Auction House sale in London in 1966 from the collection of Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill.
The painting is composed of oil on wood panel. Wood panels can expand and contract with fluctuations in humidity and temperature. At some point in the history of this painting the panel cracked, creating a long vertical split and unstable paint. In addition to this disfiguring crack, the painting’s varnish layer, like many that came out of older collections, had darkened and discolored over the years. These issues put the painting in jeopardy of losing more paint and obscured the artist’s hand and intentions. The physical problems also inhibited research on the work and an understanding of the stylistic aspects of the artist and time period.
The Gregory Allicar Museum of Art is committed to best-practices in collections care, including preserving works of art for the future. The museum has a long-term conservation plan that identifies and prioritizes works of art needing conservation. Conservation, however, is time-consuming and expensive. Thanks to a generous grant from the Greenwood Fund at the Denver Foundation, we were able to prioritize and complete conservation on the Pourbus work.
The American Institute of Conservation for Historic and Artistic Works, the professional organization for conservators in the United States, defines conservation as “actions taken toward the long-term preservation of cultural property. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventative care, supported by research and education.” Art conservators are trained and licensed professionals. The conservation of the Pourbus painting was completed by Cynthia Lawrence, a Denver-based conservator who specializes in paintings and has worked for numerous museum and private collections.
Lawrence’s treatment of the painting resulted in a radical transformation as seen in photographs taken prior to, during, and after conservation. The panel crack, once extremely visible, distracting and unstable, is now stabilized and minimized. Lawrence cleaned the painting, removing surface dust and dirt and discolored varnish layers. The original vibrant colors and subtle brushwork are now evident.
Many of the paintings in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art are slated for conservation. Paintings, works of art on paper, and sculpture need treatments from licensed conservators with specialties in a variety of media. As funds become available from grants and generous donors, we hope to conserve other works of art and bring them back to their original luster.