Blanton Exhibition Dives into the Science of Art Conservation with Big Reveal

Nov. 15, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents "Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection," an exhibition on view Nov. 17, 2012, through May 5, 2013, that puts the preservation of Old Master paintings and drawings from the 16th through 18th centuries under a metaphorical microscope, underscoring how the convergence of art and science can lead to new knowledge about the works and their makers.

Art conservator working

Antonio Carneo’s "The Death of Rachel" undergoing conservation treatment at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Antonio Carneo’s 17th-century painting "The Death of Rachel," recently restored by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, serves as the focal point of this in-depth investigation and is showcased alongside several additional Renaissance and baroque artworks, representing a range of conservation issues, from the Blanton’s Suida-Manning Collection.

"We are excited to share in detail the fascinating conservation process for 'The Death of Rachel,'" said Blanton Director Simone Wicha. "This painting alongside other beautifully restored Suida-Manning works provides a peek into the Blanton’s ongoing care of the collection and deep commitment to ensuring it can be studied and enjoyed for generations to come."

Organized by the Blanton and made possible by a unique partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, "Restoration and Revelation" features a focused selection of paintings and drawings, all drawn from the museum’s Suida-Manning Collection. Acquired in 1998, the Suida-Manning Collection comprises approximately 650 European paintings, drawings and sculptures — predominantly Northern Italian from the late 16th to the mid-18th centuries.

Rachel's foot before and after conservation

Detail of "The Death of Rachel" painting before and during conservation treatment.

At the center of the exhibition is a masterwork by Carneo, "The Death of Rachel," which depicts a scene from the Book of Genesis in which Rachel, the wife of Jacob, dies giving birth to her son, Benjamin. Carneo used a limited yet emotive palette to capture the drama of the subject. When the Blanton acquired the work in 1998, the canvas had severe structural problems and a pattern of paint loss indicating that it was probably rolled and folded at some point in its history. A previous restoration attempted in the mid-20th century was left unfinished, and the painting was in need of repair to safeguard it from further deterioration and restore its visual integrity.

The conservators at the National Gallery of Canada, led by Chief Conservator Stephen Gritt, first had to technically examine the painting, clean its surface and fill in areas of paint loss. It took several months to reconstruct the forms in "The Death of Rachel," and the whole treatment — which took more than 500 hours — was documented through video and photography that accompany the dramatic and successful end result on view.

A range of conservation issues — and the techniques used to address them — is examined through other works in the exhibition. Luca Cambiaso's drawing "Saint Benedict Enthroned between Saint John the Baptist and Saint Luke," for example, was created with iron gall ink, a popular medium from the 15th through the early 20th centuries that, over time, corrodes paper and creates holes. In Pacecco de Rosa's "Saint Agatha," issues particular to panel painting, such as moisture absorption, are addressed. Also on view is a 17th-century canvas by a follower of the artist Simon Vouet selected for this exhibition because of a startling discovery made while it was being cleaned.

High-resolution images are available for the press.

"Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection" is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art and made possible through support from the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Funding for the exhibition is provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Cathy and Giorgio Borlenghi. Conservation for Antonio Carneo’s "The Death of Rachel" is made possible by Alessandra Manning-Dolnier and Kurt Dolnier and donors who contributed to the 2011 Annual Fund.

About the Blanton Museum of Art:
Founded in 1963, the Blanton Museum of Art is one of the foremost university art museums in the country and holds the largest public collection in Central Texas. Recognized for its modern and contemporary American and Latin American art, Italian Renaissance and baroque paintings, and encyclopedic collection of prints and drawings, the Blanton offers thought provoking, visually arresting, and personally moving encounters with art.

For more information, contact: Samantha Youngblood; Kathleen Brady Stimpert, Blanton Museum of Art, 512-475-6784.