Blog Posts: February 2011

Portrait of King George VI—Dedicatee of the Szyk Haggadah

Szyk, Arthur, King George VI, London: 1938. Original watercolor and gouache pain

Arthur Szyk, King George VI, London: 1938. Original watercolor and gouache painting. 7 ½” x 5 ¼”. In original frame with fine French matting. Signed and dated. “Arthur Szyk Pinxit. [Latin: he painted it] London. 1938.”

The Academy Award-nominated film The King’s Speech sheds new light on the life of King George VI. Currently on view in Gallery 1 at the Legion of Honor is a portrait of the king that provides yet another glimpse of the royal.

King George VI was painted by Arthur Szyk in the illuminated style with an intricate, richly designed border pattern and a profusion of traditional iconography representing Great Britain. In this painting, the 43-year-old king is presented in full military uniform before an open window. Behind the window curtain of royal tartan cloth, the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster appear in exquisite miniature. In the upper right corner is a shield representing a composite of the United Kingdom’s symbols. Topped by St. Edward’s crown are: the motto of the Royal Order of the Garter “honi soit qui mal y pense” (evil be to him who evil thinks); the royal motto “Dieu et Mon Droit” (my God and my right); the lion of England and the royal unicorn of Scotland, the royal orb (crown), Scottish lions, and the Irish harp. Within the quarter-inch illuminated border are additional micro-shields with further symbols of the realm, including Scottish thistles, Irish harps and shamrocks.

The Bust in the Bog

Olmec bustOne of the rarest pieces in our Olmec exhibition at the de Young is a carved human bust made of a tropical variety of cedar tree. Over three thousand years old, the bust has survived this long because it was buried at the bottom of a freshwater bog for most of its life.

Archaeologists believe it was placed in the bog, along with thirty-six other busts, by the Olmec as part of a large offering, probably in response to a long-term problem facing the community, such as a flood or drought. The busts were bundled in vegetable mats and buried along with other objects of high value—some of which are also  in the exhibition.

Researchers think the Olmec chose the spring, named El Manatí for a nearby hill and the manatees that were abundant in the area, as a site for important offerings because it represented a culmination of important elements. The Olmec believed water and mountains were imbued with sacred qualities, including fertility, and saw tall hills both as a meeting point between the earth and the sky and as “mansions of the rain god.” The area was also abundant in hematite, an iron-rich red pigment that researchers believe the Olmec associated with blood.

Interview with the Conservation Interns

Internships are a crucial part of the education and training of conservators. Currently we have three graduate interns in conservation from three different countries, allowing us a unique opportunity to discuss conservation training from an international perspective.

Erin Stephenson and Stephanie Ricordeau are interns in the Paintings Conservation Department. Erin is completing her Master of Arts and Certificate of Advanced Study in Conservation through SUNY Buffalo State College while Stephanie is in the Master’s Program for Conservation-Restoration at La Sorbonne, Paris, France.

In the Objects Conservation Department, Tegan Broderick is an intern completing her Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The interns recently shared some interesting insights into their experiences in conservation.  Here are excerpts from our conversations followed by the full text of their interviews.

 FAMSF Conservation Graduate Interns 2011 

FAMSF Conservation Interns Erin Stephenson, Tegan Broderick, and Stephanie Ricordeau

Olmec: An Exercise in Scale

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico is the perfect exhibition to show the range of artworks an objects conservator can work on. The pyramid from Complex C at the Olmec site of La Venta is first object represented in this exhibition that I helped conserve.  At the beginning of the exhibition you will see a large color photograph of this pyramid showing the result of the conservation treatment.


Inspiration: New Works Created after Paintings in the Legion's Collection

In preperation for the exhibition Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave at the Legion of Honor, artist Isabelle de Borchgrave created five new works inspired by paintings in the European paintings collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Selected by de Borchgrave during a summer 2010 visit to the Legion of Honor, the paintings include Anthony van Dyck's Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child (1634), Massimo Stanzione's Woman in Neapolitan Costume (ca. 1635), Konstantin Makovsky's The Russian Bride's Attire (1889), and Jacob-Ferdinand Voet's late 17th-century Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba.

All five of de Borchgrave's life-sized interpretations are on view in the last gallery of the exhibition. After taking in Pulp Fashion on the Legion's lower level, head upstairs to find three of the four paintings. (The portrait of Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba is not on public view, as it's currently being worked on in our conservation studio.)

Marie Claire de Croy and Child

Marie Claire de Croy and Child, 2010
 

Marie Claire de Croy and Child by Van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child, 1634.
Oil on canvas, 81 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches. 58.43
On view in Gallery 14.

dYinterpretations: A Journey through the de Young with Filmmaker-in-Residence Lise Swenson

The de Young Museum previews its new iPhone application dYinterpretations: A Journey through the de Young with Filmmaker-in-Residence Lise Swenson on Friday, February 11, during the museum’s weekly event Cultural Encounters: Friday Nights at the de Young. Museum lovers will be given the opportunity to download the new app for free in the iTunes App Store between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm prior to its official release on March 1 for $2.99.

What exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?

The objects conservation lab is busy doing their part for the installation of Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. So what exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?