Sunday, October 23, 2005

Friday in DC

This engaging little Cranach is one of three of that master's works I got to look at up-close and personal in Friday's tour of the National Gallery conservator's lab (the other two were magnificently intimate portraits of young girls in red dresses--very demonic young girls!). I love the lunar landscape of Golgotha, the strange portent of the pastel sunset, and that bizarre celebratory knight on his curiously jaunty horse. I saw it with the varnish off and some flecks of paint removed down to the canvas and awaiting repair. Julio got me into the lab and his friend and Winterture classmate P. toured us around. We saw a large Van Dyck portrait of a woman in a black and green dress. X-rays revealed that a layer of black paint was hiding details of a castle keep in the upper left of the frame, and restorers were busy removing the paint to uncover what was thought to be the residence of a sponsor or donor who later fell out of favor for some reason. The possessor of the work a few centuries ago had inked out any indication of that family. The restorer had also re-painted nearly the entire dress because of materials problems. I also saw a frivolous little Dutch oil on panel that had been broken by a careless catalog photographer, a Lieberman canvas marred by blue-painted packing crates rubbed on the work by bumbling movers, a Rothko surrealist daub, several Monets and a Manet, and a strange Rousseau idyll featuring a soldier and his lady in a verdant confusion of trees and vines. It was fun to witness Julio in his professional element--everyone knew him or had heard of him, everyone knew his reputation as an artist and as a restorer/conservator. We got to see a lot of P.'s research on her current project (a bathing beauty with exposed bosoms in a tub with a young boy reaching for an apple near the water, a maid nursing an infant crammed into the perspective--P. had discovered several dozen variants of the theme and figures in other collections, and we saw her X-rays and spectral analyses as well). Julio told a story about nearly vomiting on a painting of Salome holding the head of the Baptist because of eating ravioli and doing too much Yoga before sitting down to work--and I heard from other restorers about disasters with coffee cups and spilled varnish.

Walking around the galleries with Julio was an enormous pleasure--we showed each other favorite stuff and I had access to his truly encyclopedic knowledge of art history and technique. A pleasure despite the awful weather, the rude DC police and their suspicious cars and pushy "road closed!" behavior, and my constant desire to run over to the Courthouse and see if I could touch the garments of St. Patrick Fitzgerald. We hooked up with Yo! Adrienne for the train ride home and had dinner later at Khumari.

Note to self--Julio's Stupid Hot Habenero Jelly is not to be taken lightly.