Revelatory Learning at London Art Week

Revelatory Learning at London Art Week

Last week was London Art Week when the big auction houses show and try to sell their best Old Master paintings. I was lucky enough to have an invite to the studio of art historian and conservator Simon Gillespie, a space that will be familiar to viewers of the BBC 4 series ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’. Amongst the paintings in the studio was an Artemisia Gentileschi and Simon explained the technique she used to transfer her preparatory drawings onto the painting surface. For me this has always been a tricky problem to solve effectively and I was impressed to discover that often Artemisia would incise the design of the figure, freehand, into the wet ground layer, a process also employed by her contemporary, Caravaggio. I’m sure there are a multitude of painters now using this technique, but it was news to me. There, chatting to Simon in front of the painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, I learned her working method over the passage of four centuries. That’s an exciting way to learn something, beamed through history.
Simon gave me a copy of the Burlington Magazine in which there is an article about this technique here:

David and Goliath, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s.

The next day there was a symposium at the National Portrait Gallery. Simon popped up again in a panel discussion on restoration techniques but I hope he won’t mind me saying that the highlight for me was the afternoon session about picture frames where I learned so much. Paul Mitchell (antique and replica frames) and Peter Schade (Head of Framing at the National Gallery) have a wealth of experience and they deal with frames for clients with big budgets. In this instance you can really consider what would be historically appropriate for a painting and what would ideally compliment it. The things they can do with their frames! I had no idea that the decorative elements of a frame could be used so effectively to echo and amplify the composition of a work, long ago even illuminating it with the large gilded leaves, carved into the wooden frame.

Velasquez, Don Pedro de Barbarana, 1631-33, Kimbell Art Museum, in Spanish Baroque polychrome frame.

Anyway if you’re interested look them up as well as the erudite art historian Lynn Roberts editor and lead author of an interesting frame blog:

I recommend this post on the history of frames:

Here is a good reframing story on Paul Mitchell’s web site of a collaboration on a frame he supplied to Peter Schade:

Hope you’re Christmas plans are coming together and you manage to stay Covid free.

See you next week.


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