Friday, June 1 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Paintings) An Obscured Beauty: analysis and treatment of "Dancing Girl" by Muhammad Baqir

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In 2015 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston acquired Muhammad Baqir's "Dancing Girl" dated 1192 AH (1778 AD), their first Islamic easel painting. While Baqir is primarily known for his miniature painting, this oil on canvas work is roughly 59 inches tall, 31 inches wide, with an arched top, and features a 3/4 size portrait of a female dancer. The subject is dressed in a patterned skirt with jeweled bodice holding castanets in both hands, with one arm raised above her head. She stands before an open window with a typical landscape behind and a bowl of pears to the side. Baqir was one of the first Persian painters to incorporate European motifs and techniques into his works, and his use of perspective in particular shows the intersection between West and East. Large canvas paintings are rare for this late Zand period and few of them have been studied in depth. As the techniques and materials of miniature painting do not always translate to larger works, analysis of Baqir's materials and methods in this painting compared to his smaller compositions contributes to a greater understanding of Persian oil painting in general. Immediately after acquisition research on the painting began to aid in the overall treatment. The painting has been examined with UVF and IRR imaging along with X-radiographs. Analysis was performed using XRF and FTIR, dispersed and cross sectional samples including fiber identification of the canvas, as well as SEM-EDX. The work has been lined and treated at least twice in the past, although no conservation records are extant. Analysis shows several layers of shellac applied throughout the years and it is speculated the painting had never before been thoroughly cleaned. Overall the surface exhibited a thick plastic appearance detracting from its dynamic qualities. Additionally the severe yellowing of the coating distorted the color relationships of the composition and obscured any subtleties of shading. Cleaning the painting was undertaken with caution as several areas contain vermillion, which proved to be sensitive to any solvents strong enough to solubilize the shellac. The jeweled decorations in the dancer's costume are composed of metal flakes with painted details on top. These areas are likewise extremely delicate and could not be cleaned with solvents. The cleaning therefore consisted of two phases. First using appropriate organic solvents in any non-sensitive areas, then the remainder of the painting was slowly cleaned mechanically. The painstaking cleaning revealed beautiful delicacies in the technique and restored much of the original aesthetic. Older campaigns of retouching and over-painting were also removed and new compensation was completed in a more discreet manner. The investigation and treatment of "Dancing Girl" provided important insights into the painting materials and techniques of the late Zand/early Qajar period as well as several practical methodologies for their continued preservation. The knowledge gained from this project regarding larger Persian oil paintings on canvas is an invaluable addition to Western conservation circles.

avatar for Melissa Gardner

Melissa Gardner

Conservator, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Melissa Gardner is the Associate Conservator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston where she has worked for the past seven years in various roles.She is a graduate of the Conservation Center, IFA NYU primarily specializing in Old Master easel paintings. During her time... Read More →

avatar for Dr. Corina E. Rogge-[PA]

Dr. Corina E. Rogge-[PA]

Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Corina E. Rogge is the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Menil Collection. She earned a B.A. in chemistry from Bryn Mawr College, a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Yale University and held postdoctoral positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 11:00am - 11:30am
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston

Attendees (49)