Getty Foundation Grant Allows Museum to Conserve Highlight of European Collection

At approximately 10 by 6 feet, Vertumnus and Pomona (1757), by François Boucher and his studio, is one of the largest paintings in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s European collection. Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and fertility, transformed himself into an old woman in order to seduce Pomona, the goddess of fruit and gardens. This story, recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, was a popular subject among artists from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries as it allowed them to depict an erotic subject with tasteful modesty.

Boucher’s “Vertimnus and Pomona” undergoes study in the Museums’ paintings conservation lab.
Boucher’s “Vertimnus and Pomona” undergoes study in the Museums’ paintings conservation lab.

For many years, the painting was the focal point of a large gallery at the Legion of Honor devoted to eighteenth-century French and Italian art. However, when the room was reinstalled in 2013, the Vertumnus and Pomona was taken off view due to its condition. In contrast with more recently conserved works on view, the painting’s appearance is compromised by canvas distortions, a markedly yellowed varnish, and discolored, liberally applied retouching. Though treating the painting has long been a conservation and curatorial priority, its size and the involved nature of the structural work have previously prevented the Museums’ conservation department from attending to it.

Boucher’s “Vertimnus and Pomona” as previously installed at the Legion of Honor.
Boucher’s “Vertimnus and Pomona” as previously installed at the Legion of Honor.

But that will soon change. In May 2018, the Fine Arts Museums received a generous grant from the Getty Foundation to undertake the treatment of Vertumnus and Pomona. The project will commence this fall with X-radiography followed by the cleaning of the varnish and overpaint. The structural portion of the project will take place next year when the department will host an advanced fellow. The nineteenth-century lining will be removed in a workshop with invited senior and mid- to junior-level conservators. Canvas repair and relining will continue into 2020, followed by the retouching of losses.

The award is part of the Getty Foundation’s Conserving Canvas initiative, which will also fund projects at the National Gallery, London, the Huntington Library in Southern California, and several other international museums. Conserving Canvas aims to teach skills in the structural treatment of canvas paintings to a younger generation of conservators, many of whom have had few opportunities to develop this expertise. The grant will also allow senior conservators to transmit their knowledge and experience to younger colleagues through hands-on treatment workshops and discussions focused on the Museums’ painting. The Getty Foundation’s Conserving Canvas initiative has created an important opportunity for the Museums’ paintings conservation department to use the much-needed restoration of Vertumnus and Pomona as an educational tool in the training of the younger generation of conservators. We look forward to sharing updates on this project!