Behind the Scenes in Conservation: An Intern’s Experience

by Caroline Shaver

6/19/2019

behind the scenes , Frank Duveneck , conservation , American Painting

As the 2019 Summer Paintings Conservation Intern, I’ve been helping the paintings conservator work on a painting by a well-known Cincinnati artist, Frank Duveneck (1848-1919).

In preparation for the museum’s major exhibition of Duveneck’s work (opening fall 2020), this painting is one of many that need conservation. The museum acquired it as a gift from the artist in 1915, and there are no previous records that it has ever been conserved.

Titled Steamer at Anchor, Twilight, Venice, the work depicts a large ship in the Venetian harbor. The paint is very sketchily applied with areas of thin washes and low, white impasto in both the sky and water.

Perhaps what is most striking about the painting are the dark lines visible through and under paint layers that do not match the image. During the internship I was able to learn about and perform different methods of documentation, including infrared imaging. When we took the infrared photo and rotated it 180° we were able to see that the dark lines form a sketch of several large vertical figures surrounded by some masonry stones.

Upon first look, we believed the composition had similarities to another Duveneck painting in the lab, Reading to Chioggia Fisherman, the subject of another conservation blog post on view here. However, a later look at the other Duveneck paintings in the museum’s collection by those working on the exhibition led to the possibility that the underdrawing is more closely related to a smaller work called Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca.  Both even contain the oddly shaped form in the foreground.

In addition to documentation, I’ve also learned a lot by performing structural repairs, surface cleaning, filling and inpainting in the conservation of Steamer at Anchor, Twilight, Venice. Observing the paintings conservator work on other paintings was another great opportunity for learning. As my first experience working in a museum, the internship has given me an inside look at how museums operate and the numerous people needed to keep the operation running smoothly. I look forward to returning to the Cincinnati Art Museum to see the full Duveneck exhibition next year!