Sunday, 7 August 2011

More about the restoration game.

Frank Mason who’s anti-restoration stance I talked about before also worked closely with the painter Pietro Annigoni who was enraged and upset by the cleaning of the old masters at the National Gallery London. In July 1956, he initiated a heated correspondence in The Times on the subject of the gallery’s approach to restoration.
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Letter from Pietro Annigoni published in the Times, July 14th 1956.
"Sir, –– A few days ago, at the National Gallery, I noticed once more the ever-increasing number of masterpieces which have been ruined by excessive cleaning. This procedure, which in former times created at Munich a veritable scandal and at the same time a reaction as vigorous as it was beneficial, recommenced at the close of the Second World War not only in England but Italy, France, Germany –– everywhere, and was received, alas! with almost total indifference.
"The war did not destroy a greater number of works of art. Such is the power of a group of individuals, nowhere numerous, whose proceedings may be compared to the work of germs disseminating a new and terrible disease. I do not doubt the meticulous care employed by these renovators, nor their technical skill, but I am terrified by the contemplation of these qualities in such hands as theirs. The atrocious results reveal an incredible absence of sensibility. We find no trace of the intuition so necessary to the understanding of the technical stages employed by artists in different pictorial creations, which cannot possibly be restored by chemical means. The most essential part of the completion of a picture by the old masters was comprised in light touches, and above all in the use of innumerable glazes, either in the details or in the general effects –– glazes often mixed even in the final layers of varnish. Now, I do not say that one should not clean off crusts of dirt, and sometimes even recent coats of varnish, coarsely applied and dangerous, but I maintain that to proceed further than that, and to pretend to remount the past years, separating one layer from another, till one arrives at what is mistakenly supposed to be the original state of the work, is to commit a crime, not of sensibility alone but of enormous presumption.
"What is interesting in these masterpieces, now in mortal danger, is the surface as the master left it, aged alas! as all things age, but with the magic of those glazes preserved, and with those final accents which confer unity, balance, atmosphere, expression –– in fact all the most important and moving qualities in a work of art. But after these terrible cleanings little of all this remains. No sooner, in fact, is the victim in the hands of these ‘‘infallible’’ destroyers than they discover everywhere the alterations due at different times, to the evil practices of former destructive ‘‘infallibles.’’ Thus ravage is added to ravage in a vain attempt to restore youth to the paintings at any price.
"Falling upon their victim, they commence work on one corner, and soon proclaim a ‘‘miracle’’; for, behold, brilliant colours begin to appear. Unfortunately what they have found are nothing but the preparative tones, sometimes even the first sketch, on which the artist has worked carefully, giving the best that is in him, in preparation for the execution of the finished work. But the cleaners know nothing of this, perceive nothing, and continue to clean until the picture appears to them, in their ignorance, quite new and shining. Some parts of the picture painted in thickly applied colour will have held firm; other parts (and these always the most numerous) which depended on the glazes, of infinitesimal fineness, will have disappeared; the work of art will have been mortally wounded.
"Is it possible that those responsible for these injuries do not perceive them, do not understand what they have done? Clearly it is possible; for they are proud of their crimes and often group the paintings they have murdered in special galleries to show their triumphs to the public –– a public for whose opinion, in any case, they care nothing. For myself, I cannot express all the sorrow and bitterness I feel in the presence of these evidences of a decadence which strives to anticipate the destruction of civilization itself by the atomic bomb. How long will these ravages in the domain of art and culture continue unrestrained and unpunished? The damage they have done is already enormous."
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Despite a campaign by these leading artists the Gallery continued with inappropriate restoration of the collection leading Annigoni in 1970 to paint the word "MURDERERS" in red capital letters on the doors of the National Gallery
Two of Annigoni’s paintings of Queen Elizabeth II the first of which was unveiled in 1970

Her Majesty in the robes of the Order of the British Empire
1969.


The Queen wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter painted for the Fishmongers’ Company
1954.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pietro would not be happy with your digital rendition of his work.

He might call you names.

Journeyman said...

He probably would, even with the best intentions photography struggles to portray the grand reality of a painting by a master

Cheryl Trewin said...

Beautiful portrait of a beautiful lady-then.This is my preferred portrait of Her Majesty when she was young and beautiful.

Journeyman said...

Apparently the Queen also liked the portrait Cheryl, Although it is idealised as you say it still captures her character when she was a young woman.

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