Monday 29 April 2013

Women at Work - Labours of Love

We've been back to the conservator, in the past few months. The results are deeply gratifying.

A notable case is the painting of a woman sitting and working at a spinning wheel, and wearing wooden clogs. It's painted in oils on heavy canvas, and had never been mounted or framed. It's a work we have associated with Bertha's visit to Qu├ębec in 1907, though we haven't been able to establish that with certainty.

The surface was obscured in many places by a bluish haze, ostensibly similar to the moisture-related discolouration we'd seen on other paintings. Our good friends at St Germain Gallery were pleased to pass it along to their conservator. To their more experienced eyes, the problem appeared to have a different cause, but the expert would find out for sure.

Their intuitions were correct, as things turned out. The conservator found that the obscuring effects were due to micro-cracking of the paint and varnish. Happily, a thorough cleaning and re-varnishing cured the problem entirely. As we have seen many times before, the transformation was astonishing. Suddenly we were were able to see a wonderful work of art, revealed anew after decades in hiding.

Not to have the painting mounted and framed was unthinkable. Young Kim, owner of the St Germain Gallery, immediately showed us the frame he thought would work best. He told us that he had known since his first glimpse of the painting, even in its pre-rescued obscurity, which frame would look best. His instinct was entirely correct. The new frame suits the work perfectly.

My sister observed that, along with the spinning wheel paintings, there are a number of works, probably from around that general time period, that share an interesting theme. They all depict women engaged in a variety of creative activities:  spinning, knitting or sewing, playing (or preparing to play) music, painting. They are in a range of styles, different in many ways, but to me they have a common underlying character. They all capture the serenity and dignity of the activities portrayed, the repose and quiet concentration that come after long hours of dedicated practice and commitment to something worthwhile.



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