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Saturday, June 2 • 10:00am - 10:30am
(Paintings) Deciphering intention from ageing: the use of archival material in the study and treatment of Winifred Dysart by George Fuller

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The treatment of Winifred Dysart by George Fuller, from the collection of the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), exemplifies the importance of material study to conservation. The painting was selected for conservation in preparation for a rehang of WAM’s American collection. The painting presented several questions, relating to condition and intended appearance, which were addressed before the treatment began. Fuller was an important Massachusetts artist in the late nineteenth century and is well represented in New England collections. However, little technical research about his technique is published. Existing technical research focuses on the altered appearance of his paintings due to the deterioration of glazes. While true in many cases, this information may have had the unintended consequence of discouraging conservators and curators from treating and exhibiting his work. Fortunately, technical analysis, close examination, and primary source research illuminated the artist’s intended appearance of Winifred Dysart and allowed for a successful treatment to be undertaken. As a Tonalist, Fuller evoked an eerie atmosphere in his paintings creating what a contemporary critic described as a “soft golden hue” (Van Rensselaer, 1883) or in other cases a “sulfuric yellow tone” (Enneking, 1886). The yellow appearance of Winifred Dysart was thought to possibly be intentional and initially the decision was taken not to remove the varnish. However, nineteenth-century descriptions of the figure’s “pale lilac” dress suggest the artist did not apply a toned varnish. This, in addition to examination of Fuller’s works in other collections, prompted treatment to be reconsidered and varnish removal to ultimately be carried out. This talk will offer comparisons between Winifred Dysart and Fuller’s works where sulfuric yellow tones were clearly intentional, with the aim of providing guidance for future conservation efforts. Another complicated aspect of Fuller’s technique is the layering and scraping of paint to create texture. Receipts from Boston colorman A.A. Walker document the purchase of large quantities of coarsely woven “Heavy German canvas”. Winifred Dysart is painted coarse canvas which made distinguishing scraping from previous cleaning abrasion challenging. References such as early photographs, drawings, and the study of Fuller’s innovative technique proved essential to understanding and restoring the painting to its intended appearance. John Enneking recalled a scene in which Fuller, while critiquing his painting with fellow artists, changed the figure’s arms using crayons to adjust his composition. The original composition is visible in the x-radiograph, corroborating Enneking’s story. Fuller’s hasty reworking is distinguishable from the original paint layer, but thanks to Enneking we can be certain this reworking was done by the artist. Unfortunately, a previous restoration interpreted the artist’s reworking as unoriginal and attempted to remove it. The recent treatment addressed this damage, referencing Enneking’s description and an historical photograph, to reintegrate the damaged area. Understanding Fuller’s rich and complex approach to painting has proven essential to the successful treatment of Winifred Dysart. By sharing the observations and approaches taken during this treatment it is hoped that more works by this talented artist will be conserved and exhibited.

avatar for Roxane Sperber

Roxane Sperber

Clowes Associate Conservator of Paintings, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Roxane Sperber is the Clowes Associate Conservator of Paintings at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. She was previously the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Painting Conservation at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Before coming to WAM she worked as a research conservator in the Technical... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 10:00am - 10:30am MDT
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Paintings