Still Life: Anemones And Hyacinths

We love this little story celebrating clever ladies in art past and present across the last century, and wanted to share it with you…

Frances Hodgkins’ Still Life: Anemones and Hyacinths c1925, has been kept in storage for almost 60 years at Auckland Art Gallery. Not seen by the public for 56 years, it’s now on display at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki as part of the Frances Hodgkins: Forgotten Still Life exhibition, which opened 22 August.

Although most of the painting was in good repair when it entered the Gallery’s collection in 1956, the upper layer of brown paint around the flowers was flaking severely and no suitable treatment was available. Over the past six months, conservator Genevieve Silvester, the Gallery’s 2015 Marylyn Mayo intern, developed a remedy and restored the work to a condition where it can now be shown in public. Kind of amazing right?

“The most critical part of the treatment was to stabilise the flaking paint to prevent any further loss,” says Silvester, who first researched the type of paint Hodgkins used in order to determine the best type of adhesive to secure the flakes back into place. Two tiny samples of the brown paint were taken for analysis to Auckland Science Analytical Services at the University of Auckland.

“The upper brown layer was identified as gouache (a type of paint). The lower brown layer was found to possibly contain shellac (a varnish) and bovine proteins, which suggests the paint layer contains casein, a paint binder made from cow’s milk,” says Silvester. In response to this discovery, a suitable adhesive was found and applied to the cracks of the flaking paint. Silvester used a heated spatula to warm each tiny flake to increase their flexibility before gently pressing them back down into place – meticulous work that took more than 100 hours and was acheived under high magnification

The Still Life exhibition explores the high degree of experimentation Hodgkins brought to the subject of still life, and includes examples of Hodgkins’ still-life work in a variety of media including pencil, watercolour, gouache and oil. It’s on now and we have plans to pay a visit very soon…

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