Where is Deborah Hall? If you’ve visited the American Galleries recently, you may have noticed a conspicuous absence: William William’s portrait of Deborah Hall from 1766 is not on display. The portrait has been off-view in Conservation for the past year, where it is undergoing a major, multi-year treatment and technical study.
The painting entered the Brooklyn Museum collection in 1942 in a poor state of preservation. The paint was actively flaking away from the canvas and more than 30% of the surface was missing! Fortunately these damages did not affect the face and were confined to relatively less important parts of the composition such as the sky, the dress, and the foreground. The museum acquired the portrait knowing that Sheldon Keck, the museum’s first conservator, would immediately begin the treatment work necessary to prepare it for display. This treatment was carried out to great fanfare—the associated press came to interview Keck, which resulted in more than 100 AP wire stories being published about the project in small newspapers around the country.
Unfortunately, some of the restoration materials Keck used began to discolor within 10 years. To address this, later conservators carried out ‘corrective’ campaigns, which involved applying additional layers of retouching paint on top of Keck’s earlier work. In 2017, the painting had seven layers of varnish and five layers of restoration paint on the surface, which had all visibly discolored.
Work is currently underway to clean the painting and remove these layers of yellowed varnish and old retouching. In addition, the painting is being thoroughly examined to document not only the original painting techniques, but also the later restoration materials. You may remember this post from when we hung the painting 20 feet from the floor to do RTI. Check back over the next year to stay up to date on this project!
Nature was Georgia O’Keeffe’s most enduring inspiration, whether she was looking at panoramic southwestern landscapes or the intimate terrain of a single flower, seashell, or leaf. ⇨ O’Keeffe was often photographed outdoors, among the elements that shaped her art. ⇨ Her fascination with organic forms also surfaces in her wardrobe. This white blouse is thought to have been made by O’Keeffe herself, and we can draw analogies between its delicate hand-stitched decoration and details in her art. ⇨ Even her store-bought clothing is evidence of her consistent stylistic choices. These flat suede shoes, which she bought in multiple colors, have a pattern of raised seams that evokes tree branches or the veins of leaves.