Saturday, June 2 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Paintings) An American in Amsterdam – The relevance of the Louis Pomerantz Papers for the conservation history of the paintings collection at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

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During her three-year research project into the conservation history of the paintings collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the author discovered that the American conservator Louis Pomerantz (1919-1988) began his career in 1950, in the paintings conservation studio of the Rijksmuseum. Here Pomerantz learned the profession from chief conservator Henricus Hubertus Mertens (1905-1981). During this period, Pomerantz kept three notebooks, which are now kept at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington. The significance of these notebooks can hardly be overestimated, since Mertens did not keep any conservation documentation apart from occasional handwritten notes underneath or on the reverse of treatment photographs during his 40-year career at the Rijksmuseum. And such treatment photographs were only taken for very important paintings, or for paintings from outside the collection. The Pomerantz notebooks contain typed information as well as many drawings and photographs. They show the choice of materials and methods used to treat paintings although without explanation as to why one type of treatment is preferred over another. Indirectly, they demonstrate how the studio was run. Pomerantz also visited other departments, writing down various recipes, for example different glues used in furniture, paper, ceramic or glass conservation. Mertens had started working in the Museum in 1930. He was a young artist from the South of the Netherlands, with – as far as we know now – little knowledge about conservation. He seems to have learned the profession in the Museum as he went along. Shortly after the second World War, he treated Rembrandt’s iconic painting The Night Watch (1642), gaining an international reputation as the specialist in the treatment of Rembrandt paintings. After the war, the conservation department grew in size – before the war it had just been Mertens and a liner called Jenner – with Mertens as chief conservator. Between October 1950 to August 1951, Pomerantz did his one-year training there. This paper explores the relevance of this Amsterdam-America connection, both for the paintings conservation department of the Rijksmuseum, but also for the conservation practice in the United States. With the 2018 theme Material Matters in mind, it is a sad truth that in studying the material side of paintings, or any art object for that matter, conservation history is often forgotten, or discarded as insignificant. However, the materials and methods used in the former conservation treatments often play a very important role in the current appearance of paintings, as well in degradation processes of the original materials. When we say ‘materials matter’, we must realize that this includes conservation materials from the past. As an example of material that matters, the method of the wax-resin lining technique will be described. Pomerantz in his notebooks pays extra attention to this technique, which is also called the ‘Dutch’ method.

avatar for Dr. Esther van Duijn

Dr. Esther van Duijn

Paintings conservator / researcher, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
In 1996 Esther van Duijn finished her Art History study at the University of Utrecht with a M.A. During the subsequent five-year training program for paintings conservation at the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg in Maastricht, the history of her own profession turned into... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 11:00am - 11:30am
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston

Attendees (55)