Works on paper often have a long history and hide many clues that tell their story. Take a closer look and the artwork might reveal some of its secrets.
This post was submitted by Ann Dawson, Achenbach Graphic Arts Council Travel Chair
In 2004 artist Matthew Picton laid a sheet of plastic over the cracks in the asphalt of a playground. He traced the cracks and painted them with black enamel paint. Then he carefully cut and burned away the plastic surrounding the cracks. What was left was a giant spidery web.
One of the most exciting aspects of working in paper conservation at the Legion of Honor is the variety of objects encountered on a daily basis. When working on a 17th-century print, for example, conservation intern Laura Neufeld faced many traditional paper conservation challenges. Pier Gustafson’s Father’s Suitcase, on the other hand, is a one-of-a kind artwork that required unique treatment solutions.
The special exhibition Rembrandt’s Century, currently on view alongside Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, is striking both in its breadth and for the fact that the works on view all come from the Fine Arts Museums’ permanent collections. Preparations for this exhibition were lengthy, with some works requiring restoration treatments.
Museum visitors currently have the opportunity to look inside a rare treasure normally kept locked in dark storage. Marcel Duchamp: The Book and the Box, currently on view in the Logan Gallery at the Legion of Honor, features Duchamp’s iconic artwork, Boîte en Valise, which was made in the late 1930s.
Before there were digital image files and even before there was film, photographers captured images on glass plate negatives. In the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco there are over seventy of these glass plate negatives depicting scenes of Land’s End and old San Francisco. Discovered in the basement of the old de Young, these century-old negatives were in desperate need of cleaning and re-housing. When the negatives came into the paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor for proper care, the labor intensive project proved a perfect opportunity for pre-program conservation student Jennifer Martinez.
A monumental 17th-century etching/engraving by the artist Jacques Callot is currently on view in the Jacqueline and Peter Hoefer Print Study Room at the Legion of Honor. In addition to a dramatic naval battle scene, the print depicts many fascinating details of daily life, which are visible upon close inspection. Although the print was acquired by the museums in 1968, it had never been exhibited due to condition issues.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is home to a unique collection of 167 film negatives taken by photographer Arnold Genthe chronicling the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires. The negatives were acquired by the Legion of Honor in 1943.
On the day of the earthquake Genthe, an established photographer best known for his society portraits and views of old Chinatown, took to the streets of San Francisco equipped with a handheld Kodak camera and pockets full of roll film.
The film Genthe used was composed of a gelatin silver emulsion on a thin plastic support of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate film was introduced commercially at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. Lightweight, transparent and flexible, cellulose nitrate film freed photographers from the inconveniences of its predecessors, paper and glass plate negatives.