A memorial installment. The following column, mailed to subscribers in October 1998, appeared in Loekie Schwartz’s Dutch translation in Het Financieele Dagblad in the issue dated 31 October & 2 November 1998. I am putting it online now in tribute to two exceptional colleagues who both died this week. Hessel Miedema was a fellow art historian and Joop van Coevorden a fellow publisher, for both of whom I have measureless respect. Together, they raised to a new level the study of the greatest single book on early Dutch art, Karel van Mander’s Lives. When I wrote “Indeed, one can no longer read van Mander at all without Miedema, whose exhaustive commentary is one of the great achievements of present-day art history,” I should have said in so many words that the appearance of that commentary was due to the entrepreneurship, the good taste and dedication above and beyond the call of normal duty of Joop van Coevorden, in his DAVACO press. Their publication was financed in part by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and Stichting Charema.
The more we find out about the physical facts concerning works of art, the more aware we grow of the dangers of former and present-day restoration and conservation measures, and the narrower the margins become for responsible treatment. Yet, restore we must – or must we? Continue reading “320 Conservation conundrums”
A painting by Jan Steen of a wedding night disturbed by a demon and saved by an archangel was cut in two in the distant past and put back together again in 1996. Ownership of the larger, more attractive part has now been awarded to the heirs of a Dutch Jewish art dealer to whom it belonged in 1940. What is going to happen now? Ending with an appeal to Marei von Saher.
Is it more harmful for a museum item to be crated and shipped off to a loan exhibition or left hanging in its own gallery or storage facility? Do we see the scars of damage once they have been repaired? Schwartz answers these questions as he takes leave of CODART, the network organization for museum curators of Dutch and Flemish art he thought up and worked for for 12 years.
“Our predecessors did the best they could, but they did not have our superior knowledge of restoration science and technique, so they did more harm than good to the objects they treated.” This left-handed excuse for the irresponsibility of one’s colleagues in the past is a mantra of the profession of art restorer. Without challenging the desirability of some restoration, Schwartz takes objection to the pretence that it does not harm art objects and to the faulty logic of the excuse.