Project archive

Conservation project at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles

Three paintings from the Kröller-Müller collection have been brought to in Los Angeles, late September 2012. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Kröller-Müller Museum have entered into a joint Conservation Partnership Program to have conservation work carried out on these three paintings in the conservation studio of the Getty Museum. The paintings are The Weaver by Vincent van Gogh (image aboven: before conservation treatment), The Adoration of the Kings by Giovanni di Paolo and Portrait of a Man by Édouard Manet.  The Weaver and Portrait of a Man have been examined and treated by conservators from the Getty Museum in collaboration with a conservator from the Kröller-Müller Museum. She has accompanied the paintings to Los Angeles and stayed in the Getty Museum for three months as ‘guest conservator’.

The Adoration of the Kings by Giovanni di Paolo, before conservation treatment

The paintings of Manet and Van Gogh have been displayed in the Getty Museum, and will return home in April 2014, restored to their former glory. Below you will find more information about the conservation treatment of Portrait of a man by Édouard Manet (results November 2012)

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In November, the conservation treatment on the Manet painting was at the halfway point (image above: before conservation treatment). Although the treatment is not yet complete, it is already clear that Manet’s painting of this portrait will be far more impressive than we suspected before the treatment. Édouard Manet (Paris 1832 - 1883) painted this portrait in 1860, almost in a single session, using the so-called wet-in-wet technique: a technique in which the different colours of paint are only mixed together at a late stage on the canvas (so while the oil paint is still wet).

Thus, Manet was able to achieve highly nuanced transitions between different colours. On the other hand, Manet also placed some sharply contrasting colours next to each other in thick ‘wet’ brushstrokes and left these unmixed, thus creating powerful light-dark effects and placing the figure in the space very immediately. But Manet also uses the thickness of the paint to achieve a dynamic effect. He has applied the paint very thinly and schematically on the underside of the canvas; the man’s coat is indicated with just a few sketchy lines on a thin brown base layer. The face and background of the face are painted in thicker brushstrokes. The direction and width of the brushstroke, and even the hairs of the paintbrush, are discernible in the individual touches of the brushstrokes. In this way, both in the rendering of the portrait and the thickness of the paint, the figure stands out sharply against the background. At first sight the painting appears to have been painted spontaneously and swiftly, but during the conservation treatment and after careful examination of the paint layer, it became obvious that Manet must have had a very clear plan in mind before applying each individual brushstroke. 

The yellowed varnish on top of the paint layer was uneven, thick and discoloured. This made the original colours less clear and hard to differentiate between. The yellow film of the varnish was particularly distracting for the subtle transitions in the yellow, beige and orange tints – resulting in these being interpreted as a single colour. Furthermore, the varnish was applied very thickly, even accumulating in areas of impasto paint and almost entirely filling up the structure of the brushstrokes, which are so characteristic in this painting. This yellowed varnish was carefully removed with solvents, which thereby revealed a variety of old damaged areas and an old filling. These damaged areas will be filled and retouched if necessary; the painting will subsequently be given a new layer of varnish. Sources indicate that Manet preferred to varnish his paintings with a thin layer of varnish that was resistant to yellowing. Accordingly, the painting’s new varnish will be thin and based on a material that does not yellow with age. Thus, in the years to come, the painting can again be admired in all its colours and gradations and Manet’s dynamic and lively painting technique can once again be enjoyed to the full.

Left image: detail image during varnish removal. The yellowed and uneven varnish is still present on the right side of the line. On the left, it has been removed
Middle image: microscope image of a thicker touch of paint in the forehead. The yellow varnish has accumulated in the deeper-lying areas of the paint
Right image: detail of the man’s forehead after varnish removal

Project coordination: Margje Leeuwestein / Jessica Roeders
Duration: Sep 24, 2012 - Dec 31, 2013