FAQs

1. What is the importance of these portraits to WAM and in the scope of the History of Art?
2. Who is William Hogarth?
3. Who are the sitters?
4. Why were these portraits selected to be featured in the Jeppson Idea Lab?
5. Why did the Worcester Art Museum undertake this conservation project?
6. Please explain the aesthetic problems with both portraits?
7. Based on aesthetic issues with the portraits, what treatment was recommended?
8. What became noticeable post-cleaning that was not immediately noticeable before treatment began?
9. What types of analysis were conducted on the portraits?
10. What did you discover when you conducted this analysis?
11. How did this discovery affect how the Conservation Department decided to treat the works?

Welcome to FAQs!

Please choose a question from the left.

What is the importance of these portraits to WAM and in the scope of the History of Art?

Worcester has a remarkable collection of European paintings from the 1700s, but these portraits are among the most striking because of their quality (more evident after the conservation treatment) and their rarity (Hogarth portraits are not common in America, and the fact that the pair has survived together is particularly rare).

For more information read Chapter 1

Who is William Hogarth?

Hogarth is one of the greatest artists of the 1700s. He started out as a printmaker in London, and became very famous for his satirical engravings, but he branched out to painting, art theory, and art law.

For more information read Chapter 1

Who are the sitters?

Mr. and Mrs. James are English aristocrats, although we don't know a great deal about their lives. Their greatest contribution to history may be the fact that they commissioned one of greatest English painters to make their likenesses. They were recently married at the time Hogarth painted them, and Mr. Hogarth was nearly twice his new wife's age.

For more information read Chapter 1

Why were these portraits selected to be featured in the Jeppson Idea Lab?

The restoration of these pictures was ideally suited to the conservators Rita Albertson, Philip Klausmeyer, and Birgit Strähle because of their collaborative manner of working, the capacity of our conservation laboratory to draw on the latest scientific advances and research, and our ability to restore the original frames as well as the paintings. The Idea Lab is meant to show fresh ideas and new works, and the conservation treatment and research is brand new, completed just in time for the opening of this project!

For more information read Chapter 1

Why did the Worcester Art Museum undertake this conservation project?

During the more than one hundred years of ownership by the Museum, these splendid portraits had never been comprehensively treated or technically evaluated by conservators. Due to their poor state of preservation, it was difficult to fully appreciate the beautiful colors and outstanding brushwork of these works.

A generous grant from the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund enabled the Museum to undertake in-depth conservation treatments and scientific research. These cornerstone works of the WAM collection can once again be displayed with great pride.

For more information read Chapter 2

Please explain the aesthetic problems with both portraits?

The portraits appeared dark, flat, and dull. They no longer represented the character of the sitters - Mr. James and Mrs. James, or the greatness of the artist - William Hogarth. Conservators' modest attempts to revive the portraits included periodic applications of fresh varnish that naturally aged over time. Eventually the artist's vivid colors and splendid brushwork were hidden behind a thick build-up of darkened and yellowed varnish, which made it impossible to fully appreciate Hogarth's artistic achievement.

For more information read Chapter 2

Based on aesthetic issues with the portraits, what treatment was recommended?

Conservation treatment consisted of surface cleaning, varnish removal, filling of losses, re-varnishing, and in-painting. These steps were essential to revitalizing these exceptionally high quality works and to revealing the charming character of this appealing couple.

To properly display the portraits, treatment of their original 18th-century gilded frames was also necessary. This consisted of consolidation of lifted and flaking gold, surface cleaning, and removal of discolored over-paints. Missing pieces of carved ornament were replicated using molds, and small losses were filled with gesso. The cast pieces and fills were toned with paint made from gold to match the surrounding original gilt.

Conservators documented every step of their work with photography and written reports for future reference.

For more information read Chapter 2

What became noticeable post-cleaning that was not immediately noticeable before treatment began?

During the cleaning, the exceptional skill of the artist became more apparent. Hogarth's sophisticated mastery of color and paint handling are apparent when you look up close. As you step back, however, the colorful brushstrokes are transformed into outstanding portraits, expressive of character, texture and elegance.

For more information read Chapter 2

What types of analysis were conducted on the portraits?

In order to learn more about the physical and chemical nature of the portraits, conservators first examined them using a low-power binocular microscope. They also used the non-destructive techniques of x-radiography, infrared reflectography, XRF spectroscopy and UV-induced visible light fluorescence. Finally, with the help of colleagues outside the Museum, they employed SEM-EDX and FTIR, two specialized systems used to more specifically identify the layers of the paint structure.

For more information read Chapter 4

What did you discover when you conducted this analysis?

Perhaps the most important discovery we made had to do with the composition of the stratified materials we wanted to clean off the surface. There were multiple layers of disfiguring grime and varnish on top of a protein-based material that was in direct contact with the artist's paint. This suggests the artist may have applied a layer of egg white as a temporary varnish before the paint was fully dry. Therefore, it was critical to stop the cleaning process before we reached the protein layer to ensure there was no damage to the paint film.

For more information read Chapter 4

How did this discovery affect how the Conservation Department decided to treat the works?

Conservators used this information to formulate a cleaning gel specifically designed to remove the accumulation of years of dirt, grime and discolored varnish without disturbing the artist's fragile paint film.

For more information read Chapter 4

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