Alligators, palm trees, luxury residences… What business have in Florida the Holy Trinity by Dürer, Mr. Audubon, and a paper conservator from old Europe?
A two-week holiday to visit friends from Palm Beach became a fascinating collaboration project with the South Florida Art Conservation workshop, where I had
the chance to see (and touch!) major pieces of art from all over the world.
Old masters hang around as if they owned the place at the conservation studio lead by Amparo Escolano and Jerónimo Pérez. Receiving artworks by Rembrandt, Dalí, Picasso is a day-to-day phenomenon to these conservators. Including also, of course, great names from America, such as John James Audubon. Painter and ornithologist from the early 19th century, he is the author of the magnum opus Birds of America (1827-38), great for its extension as well as for its scientific and artistic quality, and also for its paper, which had the largest format possible by then, the double elephant folio. Indeed, everything is much bigger in America: from hamburgers… to papers!
“Virginian Partridge (Northern Bobwhite) under attack by a young red-shouldered hawk,” illustration # 76 of “Birds of America” by Audubon; engraved, printed and coloured by R. Havell. The outburst and naturalness of the depcited scene is worth a National Geographic snapshot, not surprisingly these prints made heads turn in the scientific and artistic community of his time. Left: the print before the restoration. Right: after light bleaching, during the flattenning on the the vacuum table.
It is in fact these Audubon prints that triggered this rewarding collaboration, and produced the best of memories, both personal and professional. Fate pushed Amparo to specialize in paper conservation, and while working with her I learned techniques usually applied in painting conservation, such as the vacuum plate to flatten untamed documents, like the hawks and partridges from Audubon, which couldn’t stay still. But I also learned typical proceedings from the paper field, like bleaching with a light source, that gives extraordinary results. Very likely an article about it will be published by her in the near future.
Apart from celebrities on paper, they also restore sculpture and painting, their strong point. Amparo and Jerónimo were both born in Europe, Madrid, and they work together as an excellent professional tandem. Their business has become established miles away from Spain thanks to their tenacity and expertise. They are in tune with each other and their complicity shows in a particular mixed language that made me laugh quite a few times: “Jero, este print tan rippleao te lo flatteneo yo en un momento!” All in all, it’s the ideal climate for a good work.
Not only Mr. Audubon and myself have crossed the pond from old Europe territories to the USA: the Holy Trinity from Albrecht Dürer has as well, just arrived to be restored. It is a really interesting case because it has some gaps that had been restored centuries ago. The retouching of this ancient restoration shows that the one who did it based his addition on a complete issue of the same woodcut, from which he would have copied the lost areas, that are similar enough to match. Or maybe what is missing today was so severely damaged that had been replaced by this retouching, discarding the damaged areas?
The collector owner of the woodcut appreciated to have such a rare issue with an ancient restoration, and asks expressly to preserve this old retouching. Therefore we could properly name the present restoration as a minimal intervention, yet only some oxidation stains and permitral tears are treated, while being respectful with this retouching, which is old but not obsolete. The supports that constitute it are innocuous (paper, animal glue) and removable, and the resulting image does not visually distort the print, as well as can be distinguished when looking at it carefully. Considering it was retouched many years ago, it is surprising that it accomplishes all the precepts of the most updated deontological codes in conservation.
Captivated both by the precision and beauty of Dürer’s stroke as well as for the richness of my predecessor’s intervention, I’ll say goodbye until the next post.
Amparo Escolano and Jerónimo Pérez, great conservators, brave entrepreneurs and amazing persons. Thank you for this wonderful experience. Awesome !!!