Museum Home Research and Conservation An In-Depth Look at Conservation Partnerships Kroller-Muller Museum Partnership

Road Leading to a Lake / Cezanne
 

The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands, is one of Europe's great museums. Located within a Dutch national park, the museum holds an outstanding collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, drawings, and sculpture, most acquired by the museum's founder, intrepid art collector Helène Kröller-Müller.

With generous support from the Paintings Conservation Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty conservators have recently recently completed a nearly two-year project to study, clean, and retouch ten paintings from the Kröller-Müller Museum. Conservators and curators at the Getty worked with their counterparts in The Netherlands to select paintings that were both in severe need of conservation and that would complement the Getty's collection when they went on view at the Getty Center after conservation—including a landscape by Paul Cézanne (above), a brooding three-quarter-length portrait by Jacopo Tintoretto, and a study of a bejeweled burgher by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

 
Cornfield and Tree in the Mountains / Van Gogh
 

Among the Kröller-Müller's treasures are nearly 300 works by Vincent van Gogh. This painting, Cornfield and Tree in the Mountains, was selected for treatment because of its particularly fragile condition.

Van Gogh painted the scene on an unprimed herringbone cloth after he ran out of traditional artist's canvas, and traces of the delicate cloth fabric are still visible in many places throughout the painting (see detail).

 
Detail of Cornfield and Tree in the Mountains / Van Gogh
 

Years ago, conservators glued a piece of secondary canvas to the reverse of the fragile fabric to support it. Unfortunately, the adhesive stained the original fabric. Getty conservators studied the painting and determined that the fabric backing could not be removed without damaging the painting.

Over the years, light had also faded many of the painting's brighter colors. The greyish brushstrokes dotting the field, for example, were once a vivid pink. Conservators identified the colors originally used in this painting and are now creating a study model of the landscape to give some idea of how it may have looked when it was first painted.

 
Portrait of Mlle Eva Callimaki Cartagi / Fantin-Latour
 

Collaboration between Getty staff and conservators from the lending institution is an important part of every Paintings Conservation partnership.

The Paintings Conservation Council provided funds for Kröller-Müller conservator Devi Ormond to come to the Getty Center to work on this portrait of a woman by Henri Fantin-Latour.

Ormond devoted three months to the project, collaborating with the Getty Museum's paintings conservation department and curatorial staff, as well as scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute to study the painting and restore details to the face, which had been damaged by a previous restoration effort.

 
Visiting conservator Devi Ormond at work
 

Ormond was also able to locate a century-old photograph of the painting that showed lost details of facial features. She then used the photograph as a source document to guide the reconstruction of much of the original detail (see photo at left).

Ormond's cleaning also heightened the brilliance of the woman's dress and the flowers at the bottom right. They show Fantin-Latour's talent for combining precise observation with beautiful subdued colors and a delicate, shimmering surface.

The largest and most striking of the paintings conserved in this partnership is The Clown, an early work by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This nearly life-sized painting is believed to be a portrait of John Price, a clown who entertained 19th-century Parisian audiences by playing the violin while balancing atop an unsteady ladder or chair.

Chief paintings conservator Mark Leonard spent six weeks cleaning the large painting and three more retouching its surface. Leonard removed a thick layer of varnish that was dulling the colors and the clown's face (image below left). The clown's face now glows white, as it would have originally, heightening his enigmatic expression and commanding stage presence (image below right).

 

The Clown / Renoir The Clown / Renoir

 

The Clown hung in the Getty Center's West Pavilion after conservation, providing a provocative counterpoint to later paintings by Renoir in the Getty's collection, including Albert Cahen d'Anvers and La Promenade.

This project was made possible by the Paintings Conservation Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, a group of supporters who underwrite selected conservation partnerships.