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Friday, June 1 • 9:00am - 9:30am
(Paintings) Gabriel Revel’s "Portrait of a Sculptor": a painting and treatment in transition.

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The examination and treatment of Old Master works inevitably involves the interpretation and conceptual deconstruction of a complex overlay of visual evidence of the artist’s studio practice, natural aging of materials, past structural treatments, cleanings, restorations, and even associated damage. In the case of a portrait by the French baroque academic painter Gabriel Revel, these tasks were complicated by the dramatic revelation of compositional features in part obscured by the painter himself in pentimento. In particular, the rendering of a small statuette that had been covered by past restoration raised questions about the correct reading of the piece. As part of the creative evolution of the portrait, Revel modified the left forearm and hand position to make room for the inclusion of a classical statuary fragment of a head. Yet the positioning of the fingers is ambiguous and the painter’s intentions are unclear as to whether the portrait was meant to contain both of the sculptural fragments or just one. Digital X-radiography imaging of the substrate paint layers conducted at Oregon Health and Sciences University was hampered by an aluminum sheet concealed within the wax resin lining dating to the 1960s. Mammography, with a higher resolution for assessing subtle differences between densities in materials, also provided limited results regarding the original composition. Imaging was helpful, but failed to present a clear answer to questions that remained regarding the reconciliation of the various compositional features of the subject’s left hand and his possessions. Reversal of the lining and removal of the aluminum sheet were considered to improve imaging clarity, but eliminated as options due to the sustained structural stability of the lining materials. Ultimately, a bold curatorial decision was made to temporarily reveal all compositional elements of the painting. Although the composition has greater clarity and visual strength without the statuette, suggesting a reason why it was previously masked, the restoration choice was acknowledged as potentially a transitional state. It is hoped that bringing attention to the work will inspire research of Gabriel Revel, an artist with scarce dedicated scholarship, and therefore provide greater clarity regarding the artist’s intentions. The paper will discuss conservation of the portrait as a sum of multiple historic identities, and the decision making process that guided the treatment choices in the formal interpretation, perhaps ephemeral, of "Portrait of a Sculptor".

avatar for Nina M. Olsson

Nina M. Olsson

Owner, Nina Olsson Art Conservation
Nina Olsson is a conservator of paintings in private practice and a researcher established in Portland, Oregon in 2001. Since 2015, Nina is also president and co-founder of Heritage Conservation Group, LLC, a group of Portland-based conservators of various specialties. From 2011-2014... Read More →
avatar for Samantha Springer

Samantha Springer

Conservator, Portland Art Museum
Samantha Springer relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2015 to take the position of Conservator at the Portland Art Museum. While Samantha remains a generalist due to her responsibility for care of a broad collection, she has particular interest in preventive conservation, sustainability... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 9:00am - 9:30am MDT
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Paintings