By Michael Brand and staff of the Getty Museum
The focus of the J. Paul Getty Museum's conservation activities is the care and study of the Museum's collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities; European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, and decorative arts; and European and American photographs. An essential component of the Museum's mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret important works of art. More than thirty conservators and support staff in four conservation departments perform a broad range of services that not only ensure the best care of the Museum's collection for the enjoyment and education of future generations, but also contribute to the expanding body of knowledge in the conservation field.
While the Getty Museum's conservation efforts serve the needs of the collection with preventative conservation as well as treatment, they also reflect the broader missions of the Getty Trust as a whole. Museum conservators collaborate closely with the curators, educators, and exhibition planners to provide the public with a deeper understanding of the works of art entrusted to our care. We are fortunate to work with the Getty Conservation Institute and benefit greatly from our collaboration with colleagues in the GCI's Museum Research Laboratory. We are fortunate, as well, to have access to the colleagues and resources at the Getty Research Institute (GRI); the GRI Research Library is a particularly valuable repository of information regarding artists' working methods and materials, and the history and provenance of the objects in our care.
This culture of partnership reaches beyond the Getty's two campuses—the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. It has led to work that supports the conservation field and to a successful program of collaborative projects that provides conservation services to other institutions. In partnering with other institutions, our shared interest in specific conservation problems can be approached and examined from several points of view. The Museum's conservators and curators benefit from the opportunity to work with experienced professionals from other institutions, all of whom bring new perspectives to the conservation activities that take place in our studios. Very often the unique conservation challenges presented by these artworks require expertise or resources not otherwise available to the partnering institution. In many instances, the completion of the partnership includes exhibiting the objects in the Museum's galleries, either as part of a larger exhibition, in the regular permanent collection galleries, or as part of a more focused exhibition highlighting the collaboration and modern conservation processes and approaches.
Beyond these programs, the Museum's conservation departments are involved in activities that have helped advance the conservation field, from developing state-of-the-art mounts that protect objects from seismic events, to working with outside colleagues to develop a new retouching paint (a material that has found wide use and acceptance in the field). We also contribute to the field by and through disseminating research with other institutions and colleagues in the conservation community through publications, and by sponsoring or cosponsoring symposia and advanced training workshops. Described in the following pages are just some of the significant projects carried out by the Museum's four conservation departments, highlighting the various ways in which they work to advance the field, to aid and collaborate with other institutions, and to care for the Museum's collection.
Michael Brand, Director
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Beyond its primary duties to ensure the long-term care and preservation of the Getty Museum's collection of antiquities, the antiquities conservation department engages in conservation partnerships with institutions and collections from around the world. The department currently is stabilizing and restoring several vases from the Antikensammlung in Berlin and stabilizing several Roman mosaics from Tunisia (in partnership with the Bardo Museum in Tunis and the Archaeological Museum in El Jemm). With respect to the mosaics, the Museum's conservators are pursuing a stronger and more stable approach to their rebacking. The approach being developed utilizes materials easily available to technicians in Tunisia while meeting the structural needs of the large mosaics and assuring their stability over time.
The department also conducts research that enhances its ability to protect the Getty's collections and that ultimately contributes to the advancement of the conservation profession. Such research includes studies in the history of the restoration of antiquities; this research resulted in an international conference at the Getty Center in 2001 and another in 2002. Research also focuses on the processes of conservation and the philosophical underpinnings of decision making before and during those processes.
Long-term preservation is, of course, one of the primary efforts of the department and includes collections care and disaster mitigation. Given the seismic activity of Southern California, the conservators and mount makers for antiquities have worked for over two decades to develop a variety of methods aimed at reducing the risk of earthquake damage to the collection. The Getty is not alone in facing this threat and has made an effort to share with a wider audience this information and the approaches it has developed. Consultations, lectures, and workshops have been provided through-out the United States and internationally, with advice given to museums in Turkey, Greece, Australia, and Taiwan, and to many museums in the United States. In May 2006 the department hosted a two-day international conference on protection of collections from earthquake damage, with speakers from India, Japan, Turkey, Greece, and the United States. The first of its kind, the conference reviewed the current understanding of seismic threats to collections and the efforts made to protect collections from damage. The conference featured the work of the antiquities conservation department, including the design and production of effective seismic isolators, plans for which have been shared with a number of institutions over the last several years.
Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation
The department of decorative arts and sculpture conservation, like the other Museum conservation departments, is active in many aspects of conservation, from treatment to research to preventive conservation. Perhaps its most significant recent endeavor has been to increase understanding of works of art through technical study. The department has conducted detailed investigations of a broad range of works of art, including items from the Museum's collection and loans from other institutions. For the forthcoming three-volume catalog of the furniture and gilt bronzes in the Museum's collection, the department is undertaking comprehensive technical studies of each object, including materials identification, analysis of fabrication techniques, and documentation of prior restorations or alterations. A part of this project is a database of the alloys of gilt bronze furniture mounts and furnishings.
A model for the technical study of decorative arts in the Museum's collection has been the study carried out on our French Renaissance cabinet, in which the department was able to demonstrate, through a variety of scientific and investigative methods, the authenticity of this important cabinet, long considered a fake. In the exhibition and online presentation, A Renaissance Cabinet Rediscovered, the engaging and complex story of its authentication is shared with Museum visitors. Both use the cabinet as a case study on how we learn about objects through conservation and technical analysis. Two papers on the work have already been presented to professional audiences, and articles will be published in both English and French in the Burlington Magazine and L'Estampille—L'Objet d' Art. In addition, for the broader public, we have offered a number of short courses on the technical aspects of furniture connoisseurship.
The decorative arts and sculpture conservation department has also used the Museum's temporary exhibition program as an important opportunity to carry out technical studies on discrete groups of objects on loan to the Museum. Our first and largest effort was a series of technical studies on the bronzes of Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries, conducted in conjunction with the monographic exhibition held at the Museum in the fall of 1999. Through X-radiography, alloy analysis, petrographic analysis of the casting cores, and close visual examination, we gained a deep understanding and admiration for this remarkable artist's working techniques. The opportunity to examine twenty-one examples of his works, as well as five related casts, brought together for the first time, allowed for far more nuanced analyses than if these studies had been done separately at each of the lending institutions. This research will be published by the GCI in 2007.
The department's technical studies work has fostered close collaborations with curators, conservators, and scientists. They have led to new methods and new research in many unexpected areas. It is the hope of the decorative arts and sculpture conservation department that by building a strong body of work and by sharing it fully with the field, we will build a new and deeper understanding of the works of art and the working methods of their creators.
The paintings conservation department has been very successful in creating partnerships that provide for the study and restoration of major works of art from an international array of museums and cultural institutions. As with the Museum's other conservation departments, the collaborative work is provided by the Getty free of charge in exchange for the opportunity to exhibit the works of art in the galleries after completion of the treatments. Over one hundred paintings have been studied and treated in the Museum's paintings conservation studios. Collaborations range from recent work with the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands to a multiyear partnership with the Yale University Art Gallery (which also culminated in 2002 in a symposium and accompanying Yale publication, Early Italian Paintings: Approaches to Conservation).
The department has most recently engaged in a partnership with the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. Two paintings—Madonna and Child in an Archway (ca. 1450) by Petrus Christus, and The Martyrdom of Saints Paul and Barnabus by an anonymous sixteenth-century Flemish artist, both keystones of the Hungarian museum's collections—came to the Getty in the spring of 2006 for study and treatment. András Fáy, a senior restorer from the Museum of Fine Arts, accompanied the pictures and worked as a guest conservator in the paintings conservation studio for a period of three months. Both paintings are currently on view in the Museum galleries at the Getty Center, where they will remain until late November 2006. In December, they will return to Budapest in time to be featured in the celebrations surrounding the centenary of the founding of the Museum of Fine Arts.
A similar partnership with the Staatliche Museum Schwerin in Germany has been under way for several years. Two life-size animal portraits by Jean-Baptiste Oudry—the enormous Rhinoceros and large Lion (which went to Schwerin directly from Oudry's studio in the early 1750s, as part of an impressive group of thirteen of Oudry's animal portraits)—had been removed from their stretchers, rolled, and placed in storage in the basement of the museum in Schwerin at the end of the nineteenth century, where they remained until 2002. The paintings conservation department at the Getty Museum offered to study and treat the pictures, and this initiative in turn catalyzed the development of an exhibition, Oudry's Painted Menagerie, which will reunite the two paintings with all of Oudry's other animal portraits from the collection in Schwerin. The exhibition will open at the Getty Center in May 2007 and travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston later that year. The two paintings will ultimately return to public view in Schwerin, where they will join their companions, in early 2008.
The rewards of these multifaceted partnerships are many. The lending institutions not only benefit from the restorations that are provided, but they often receive new insights into the works in their collections. Many of the projects catalyze exhibitions or lead to publications of important new findings for the field. The Getty benefits from the presence of what has proven to be an extraordinary group of works of art, which, in their own way, contribute to the vibrancy of life in the paintings conservation studio, the scientific laboratories at the Getty Conservation Institute, and, most important, the public galleries.
The primary focus of the department of paper conservation is the care of the Museum's collections of drawings, manuscripts, and photographs. Although these three collections are quite different in nature, their conservation is placed under the umbrella of one conservation department because of their common sensitivity to light. The focus of the department, staffed by specialists in each of these disciplines, has been to conserve the collections for a constant rotation of new exhibitions every three to four months in each of these areas (as well as for extensive loan and publication programs), a substantial endeavor. Permanent galleries are devoted to each of these areas, including a gallery dedicated to pastels. As a result, hundreds of manuscripts and old master drawings, as well as thousands of photographs from the Museum's collection, have been conserved.
Research into the materials, techniques, and construction of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pastel drawings is an ongoing focus of the paper conservation department as the Museum continues to expand its collection. An international symposium on the conservation of pastels, "Issues in the Conservation of 18th and 19th Century Pastels," was held at the Getty Center in 2004. Experts in pastel conservation from around the world presented their pioneering researches into pastel technique, including the Museum's paper conservation department's recent discoveries in the media technique and construction used by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour and Jean-Etienne Liotard in their pastels. An international audience of over fifty participants from both the conservation and the curatorial disciplines attended. The department's conservators have provided consultation on treatment or have actually treated pastels from a number of other institutions, including two in California—the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
The paper conservation department is also active in the area of professional development, having offered, taught, or sponsored over fifty major workshops, classes, and seminars that have attracted hundreds of conservators. The numerous topics covered have included digital printing processes, color compensation, and techniques and practices for the storage and display of graphic arts. In 2001 and 2004, a course, Color Compensation for Damaged and Deteriorated Photographs, was held at the Getty Center, in collaboration with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Participants came from countries around the world, including the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, Denmark, and Slovakia.
The course was taught by a group of experts assembled from the conservation, science, and art history disciplines. It investigated compensation techniques through a combination of presentations and practical hands-on work, including demonstrations of currently accepted techniques and practices. Experimentation with new methods in the lab was also encouraged during practical sessions, resulting in numerous innovative treatment solutions to challenging compensation problems. Topics addressed included color and light theory, inpainting media and techniques, insert-fill methods for losses in photographic paper, historic coating procedures, isolating layers, work space design, ethics, photographer's intent, and exhibition aesthetics. Photographic processes examined included salted paper, albumen, collodion-chloride, silver gelatin, platinum, and contemporary color.
More information about the Museum's conservation partnerships can be found on the Getty Web site.
The following Getty Museum staff contributed to this article:
Jerry Podany, head, antiquities conservation
Brian Considine, head, decorative arts conservation
Mark Leonard, head, paintings conservation
Marc Harnly, head, paper conservation
Tami Philion, project specialist