Jean D. Portell, & Carol Christensen
BOOK REVIEWSERIC F.HANSEN, SUEWALSTON, AND MITCHELL HEARNSBISHOP, EDITORS, MATTE PAINT: ITS HISTORY AND TECHNOLOGY, ANALYSIS, PROPERTIES, AND CONSERVATION TREATMENT WITH SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON ETHNOGRAPHIC OBJECTSMarina del Rey, Calif.: Getty Conservation Institute, 1994. 535 pages, softcover. $45 to individuals, $65 to institutions. Available from the Getty Conservation Institute, 4503 Glencoe Ave., Marina del Rey, Calif. 90292; (310) 822-2299. ISBN 0-89236-262-6.
Matte Paint brings together 1,125 references that have even remote relevance to colorants and binding agents. They are listed under four headings: History and Technology, Analysis and Examination, Properties, and Treatment. Sources range from ethnobotanical studies to coatings industry reports. The materials and methods of many cultures are addressed. Entries in the history section are grouped by year of publication, starting with 1815. (This book is a bibliographical supplement to Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts, volume 30 (1993), but the reader will need to refer back to volume 30 only to find the full names of the abstractors.)
The abstracts make up about half of the book. Adding greatly to their usefulness are an introductory topical review, three types of indexes (author, subject, and audiovisual title), a source directory, and a glossary. The subject index alone is 185 pages long; it includes descriptive phrases that help the reader locate appropriate abstracts. Some may find the glossary limited, but it has the advantage of attributing each definition to one of six sources. The reader is told, for example, that a dictionary published by a coatings technology society is the source of the description of “aging” as “storage of paints, varnishes, etc., under defined conditions…for the purposes of subsequent tests.”
The compilers of these abstracts have produced an intermediate reference of great utility to anyone who needs to analyze painted surfaces, including surfaces that are no longer matte and those that have altered to matte. The book provides a fine starting point for information seekers. The wide-ranging coverage of its subject almost guarantees that one will make serendipitous discoveries.Jean D.Portell13 Garden Place, Brooklyn, NY 11201MATTHEWMOSS. CARING FOR OLD MASTER PAINTINGS: THEIR PRESERVATION AND CONSERVATIONDublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994, 148 pages, hardcover. $41.50. Available from International Specialized Book Services, 5804 N.E. Hassalo St., Portland, Oregon 97213; (800) 944-6190. ISBN 0-7165-2531-3
This book for the general reader is written by an Italian-trained restorer based in Monte Carlo who founded the National Gallery of Ireland's conservation department. It attempts to describe the evolution of painting materials and techniques, along with the care and conservation of pictures. This is a tall order in a single volume, and the result is uneven.
The book might have benefitted from more rigorous editing, especially in the early chapters, which discuss artists' materials in a historical framework. Here the information is spotty and sometimes inaccurate, and the syntax is rather garbled (paintings are described as “biodegradable” when the author presumably means likely to biodeteriorate). Headings often do not relate to the information beneath them; a three-page section on “The Painting Technique of Paolo Uccello” contains only one sentence about that artist. Similarly, the art history in these sections is sloppy (Rubens is described as a Renaissance artist and Raphael is portrayed as painting portraits on speculation).
Despite the weakness of the early chapters, the information about conservation is generally, though not always, accurate. A glossary entry on bloom describes synthetic resin varnishes as being in danger of cross-linking, ignoring the stability of some of the most popular synthetic resins used in the field. However, the entry on priming accurately notes the frequent misuse of the term, pointing out that it properly refers to the colored layer above the ground. Because of his Italian training, the author is familiar with tools such as stereoradiography not commonly used by English-speaking conservators, as well as with a number of Italian conservation projects that make interesting reading. The discussion of means and philosophy is refreshingly objective and free from the emotional polemics of some recent publications in the field. Those working internationally will find the section listing conservation terminology in seven European languages very useful.
Some may feel uncomfortable with the author's practice of relaying bits of information in an unsupported manner and careless historical structure that is not typical of the present standard of scholarship in the field. Also, many of the bibliographic references have been superceded by newer publications. However, for the general reader, this book is a mostly accurate introduction to the care of paintings.CarolChristensenConservation Department, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 20565