Through July 10 in East Building, I am gradually restoring a work of art in the galleries as part of the Actual State exhibition—and you're invited to watch. On select days during the exhibition, I am bringing back to life a damaged 16th-century Flemish painting—a process normally completed behind the scenes, in the conservation lab.
The painting l am working on is The Pentecost (circa 1530), by a follower of Bernard van Orley. Before taking it into the galleries, I brought the painting down to its actual state, showing only what's left of the artist's orginal work. Having varnished the actual state, I am now retouching old losses, abrasions, and other damages the work has suffered over the last 400 years. In the video below, I demonstrate the kind of treatments you’ll be able to see me do in person during the run of Actual State. Most outside observers are amazed at the level of loss conservators sometimes have to fill in when they prepare a painting to go on view in a museum:
The term actual state refers to a painting's status once the old varnishes and restorations have been removed, revealing the true condition of the original paint layer. Throughout its life, a painting can be restored many times, hiding years of damage—accidental or otherwise. As part of a conservation treatment, paintings are cleaned, or returned to their actual state, and revarnished. After revarnishing, areas of damage are blended in with the surroundings using special paints made just for conservators—a process called inpainting or retouching. The extent of original damage is very rarely revealed to the museumgoer—until now …
Actual state of The Pentecost (circa 1530), by a follower of Bernard van Orley
When you come by to visit the show, feel free to ask me questions while I work, as that's why I'm there. I will be working in the Actual State exhibition gallery on Level B during the following days and times:
Tuesdays and Thursdays
February 23–July 7, except for May 17 and 19:
10:30–11:30 am and 1:30–3 pm
Select Weekends: 10:30–11:30 am and 1:30–3 pm
Actual State is first in a series of permanent collection focus exhibitions highlighting the work of the NCMA's Conservation Department.
Learn more about the NCMA’s conservation projects.
Noelle Ocon is conservator of paintings at the NCMA.
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