JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, Article 9 (pp. 315 to 321)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, Article 9 (pp. 315 to 321)

BOOK REVIEWS

Shelley Sass, Sian B. Jones, & Richard Newman



MARTIN E.WEAVER, WITH F. G.MATEROCONSERVING BUILDINGS: GUIDE TO TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALSNew York: John Wiley and Sons, 1993. 270 pages, $59.95 hardcover. Available from John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Professional, Reference and Trade Group, 605 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10158–0012.

As the field of architectural conservation has grown professionally, the need for a core body of written materials, education, and training has become apparent. The field of historic preservation has provided some interesting books on the philosophy of preservation, but only a few have concentrated on the technical aspects. In recent years several books on the conservation of buildings have been published in Great Britain (e.g., Bernard Feilden, Conservation of Historic Buildings, 1982; Gower Technical Press, Practical Building Conservation Series, 1988; and Ashurst and Dime, Conservation of Buildings and Decorative Stone, 1990). While informative on the British viewpoints and techniques, the practical and technical information has limited application to work in North America due to differing local materials and resources.

Much relevant information exists in articles from various publications and professional journals that span many disciplines. Additional valuable research has been accumulated in the many unpublished reports of most conservation practices. Still, general reference books from this side of the Atlantic that bring this knowledge together are lacking.

Martin E. Weaver's Conserving Buildings begins to fill this void. Weaver presents an overview of typical North American building materials drawing from his vast experience as a practitioner, author of various articles, and worldwide lecturer. Many readers familiar with his lecturing will recognize his presentation style, which combines the history of technology and the properties of materials with interesting, and sometimes amusing, field observations that further illustrate his point. Weaver's work is coupled with the efforts of F. G. Matero (former director of the Center for Preservation Research at Columbia University, currently director of the University of Pennsylvania Conservation Research Center) on paint technology. The combination covers the primary materials encountered in architectural conservation.

Each chapter addresses a class of material with a brief history of use, technology, and general descriptions of characteristic deteri-oration. Typical conservation treatments are described. Occasionally case histories based on the research conducted by conservators of the Center for Preservation Research (of which Weaver is now director) are presented. As a former conservator with the center, I am familiar with the projects.

One of the features of this book I like is that each chapter is self-contained, a valuable asset for a reference book. Weaver has assembled relevant information on the properties of each material, various problems associated with that material, and treatment options. Formulas and data from other sources or unpublished material are included. A list of sources for specific products and supplies follows the conservation sections. When a topic exceeds its allotted space, titles for further reading are suggested. References and bibliographies, by chapter, also list resources for further research. The book concludes with an index utilizing general topic entries.

Words alone are sometimes inadequate for thorough descriptions of conditions and procedures. A plethora of photographs, details from historical sources, line drawings, and construction details complement the text. The reader must study the illustrative material, for frequently there is no cross reference within the text, and occasionally a detail is illustrated with very little text description.

The chapter on wood is the strongest and most thorough. This is no surprise considering that wood is a subject on which Weaver has lectured extensively. A quick overview of historic construction techniques and the properties of wood makes way for the lengthy discussion of biodeterioration, pesticides, and preservatives. The line drawings may assist in identifying sources of infestation, but while the enlarged drawings are valuable as visual aids at first glance, the scale may be a bit misleading. Descriptions of various pesticides and preservatives, along with their associated health risks, provide possible methods for eradication. Possible conservation treatments are presented including patching, reinforcement, and consolidation. Two epoxy resin-based methods of reinforcement and consolidation (WER system, developed in Canada, and BETA System, developed in the Netherlands) are described and illustrated with detailed step-by-step drawings.

Although this book assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge of chemistry, most chemical properties are discussed briefly; analytical data for specific materials are included in the case studies. In-depth chemical analyses of architectural materials are not generally provided. One exception is the chapter on metalwork, in which the basic chemistry of the deterioration of metal is explored, in the form of a rust primer, as a preface to the discussion of restoration treatments. Another exception is the chapter on synthetic resins and polymers, which introduces the reader to the general terminology for this classification of materials often used in conservation treatments. On account of its brevity, this chapter will be more useful to allied preservation professionals such as architects, historic preservationists, and curators than to conservators.

The section on paints and coatings is an excellent, but brief, discussion of the materials, methods for examination and analysis, and overview of treatment techniques and materials used in the conservation of painted finishes. This chapter may be especially useful as a guide for allied professionals working with paint consultants.

Other chapters worthy of mention are on the materials of terracotta and cementitious materials. The inclusion of foundations and footings and slate roofing round out the topics encountered in conserving buildings and completing this book's usefulness as a general reference.

The book's preface warns that tackling a “comprehensive study” of any subject is monumental and likely to fall short of the mark. In general Conserving Buildings has brought together in one volume an excellent overview of a wide range of materials, but some areas receive less attention than others. Considering the amount of information concerning the wood pesticides and preservatives, one might have expected the same degree of discussion in the following chapters on the various biocides and consolidation chemicals for stonework and masonry. Chapters on associated materials such as architectural glass and historic wallpapers lack depth. These chapters are short and quickly define the general nature of the material, deterioration problems, and treatments; the suggested further reading resources are necessary to fill in the gaps.

Rather than produce a massive tome covering every aspect of building conservation, Conserving Buildings has succinctly provided a systematic compilation of the technology and practical skills of the conservation of the built environment of North America. It not only provides adequate information for basic understanding of materials and the state of conservation treatments but also gives the reader directions for further reading and additional research. This book is a useful resource for the architectural conservator and conservator of outdoor monuments as well as for historic preservationists such as architects, engineers, and curators.

ShelleySassSass Conservation, 324 W. 80th St., New York, N.Y. 10024ALEXANDERW. KATLANAMERICAN ARTISTS' MATERIALS, VOLUME 2: A GUIDE TO STRETCHERS, PANELS, MILLBOARDS AND STENCIL MARKSMadison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1992. 544 pages, $64.00 hardcover. Available from Sound View Press, 170 Boston Post Rd., Madison, Conn. 06443.

Volume 2 of Alexander N. Katlan's American Artists' Materials picks up where his American Artists' Suppliers Directory, 19th-Century: New York 1810–1899, Boston 1823–1899 (now being referred to as volume 1) left off (see Book Reviews, JAIC 27[1] 1988). It, too, will be a useful tool for researchers seeking to identify anonymous 19th-century American paintings.

The second volume expands upon the earlier publication by adding original research to the body of published information in addition to printing previously unpublished material. The breadth of knowledge is also widened by including discussions of stretchers, artists' boards, and panels with canvas stamp information. While the auxiliary supports may not have been as readily marked as the backs of canvases, these, too, can provide clues to the dates of 19th-century paintings.

The book is divided into five parts, each containing one to four chapters. Part 1 is devoted to the history and design of stretchers. An essay by Katlan provides an overview of the uses of stretchers with an emphasis on 19th-century American developments. A survey of stretcher designs by Richard D. Buck provides clear illustrations of the most frequently encountered stretchers in 19th-century American painting. Two hundred pages of reprinted patents, including the drawings, provide data about 58 stretcher patents applied for in the United States between 1849 and 1949.

Part 2 contains material concerning auxiliary supports, panels, and canvas. Included are discussions of various types of artists' boards such as millboards and academy boards. Commercially prepared wood panels are commented upon with some reference to dates when possible. The section about canvas gives brief explanations of the various weaves and primings. It also includes “A Classification of Winsor & Newton Canvas Stamps from 1838–1920” by Alec Cobb, which details the London company's history. While London suppliers may seem beyond the scope of this book, in practice American painters often used materials imported from abroad and sold by local establishments. Such a chapter is a useful addition and is rightfully included. The discussion of “Artists' Prepared Canvases from Winsor & Newton: 1928–1951” by Rosamond D. Harley specifies the preprimed fabrics available.

The third part of the volume reproduces “pertinent sections” of trade catalogs published by suppliers in America and England. Some of the reproduced sections have interesting illustrations that help the researcher visualize a 19th-century artist's supplies.

“Suppliers and Craftsmen” are listed in part 4 of the volume. Included are listings for 19th-century suppliers in Philadelphia and Baltimore, for late 18th-century suppliers in New York City, and for “English Artist Colormen and Supply Firms.” The lists are alphabetical by supplier name with dates and addresses given for each supplier. Some photographs of examples document the visual evidence found on the reverse of canvases, stretchers, and artists' boards.

The final section, part 5, contains three case histories of the materials used by Thomas Cole, Jasper F. Cropsey, and Albert Bierstadt. Knowledge concerning materials used by Cropsey and Cole is predominantly derived from letters, inventories, and bills that Katlan references in his text. The data about Bierstadt's materials take the form of two short articles written by Dare Myers Hartwell and by Ross Merrill.

The book is a useful compendium that pulls together a variety of information from different sources. Katlan has done an excellent job of organizing material that he has either written or gathered. The table of contents has practical detail, which is needed since there is no index. The inconsistent presentation is occasionally distracting but should not override the importance of the information provided. Researchers should find the volume helpful in learning more about American paintings and painters.

Sian B.JonesArt Conservation & Technical Services, 410 Lyman Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21212DAVIDBOMFORDET AL.ART IN THE MAKING: IMPRESSIONISM London: National Gallery, 1990. 227 pages, $50.00 (hardcover), $24.95 (softcover). Available from Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.

This book presents results of research carried out for an exhibition held at the National Gallery in London, November 28, 1990 through April 21, 1991. It was the third, and most recent, of the “Art in the Making” series; earlier exhibitions dealt with Rembrandt and Italian painting before 1400. The sponsor's preface provides the framework for this and the other books in the series: “Masterpieces were created as the paint was applied, but from the early Italians to the Impressionists it is clear that behind the artistic movement was a whole array of practical considerations affecting the panels or canvases, access to suitable media, and the range of the palette.”

The book is divided into two major parts. The first, covering about 100 pages, is a series of 12 essays intended to provide background information on the period in which the impressionists worked. The second, covering another 100 pages, consists of individual entries on the 15 paintings included in the exhibition.

Much of the information in the introductory essays is available elsewhere, in more exhaustive detail, but has rarely if ever been compiled in one place in such a succinct fashion. The essays are made all the more attractive by the illustrations that accompany them. One concession to the general audience the catalog was intended to reach is lack of footnoting or other direct references in the essays. A comprehensive 15-page bibliography at the end of the book lists references by essay and catalog entry, but this arrangement makes it difficult for the reader to pursue specific points. Subjects covered in the introductory essays are “Impressionist Techniques: Tradition and Innovation,” “Painting in the Open Air,” “The Painter's Studio,” “Colourmen,” “Canvases and Primings for Impressionist Paintings,” “Impressionism and the Modern Palette,” “Impressionist Paint Media,” “Nineteenth-Century Colour Theory,” “Impressionist Use of Colour,” “The Paint Layers and Surface of Impressionist Paintings,” “The Appearance, Condition and Framing of Impressionist Paintings,” and “Dealers, Galleries and the Exhibition of Pictures.” Some of this territory is well trodden (such as 19th-century color theory, which itself has been the subject of entire books), but other parts are less well known (such as canvases and primings for impressionist paintings).

Among the many fascinating aspects of the impressionists and their work are their struggles against traditional painting techniques, which sometimes produced interesting quandaries. At least to the general public, the common image of the impressionist is summarized in an account by Theodore Duret, written in 1878, which is quoted in the introduction: “The Impressionist sits on a river-bank: depending on the weather, his angle of vision, the time of day, and whether it is windy or still, the water takes on every possible tone, and he paints, unhesitatingly, the water and all its tones” (p. 9). In contrast to this picture of immediate response to nature is the actual manner in which many of the impressionists carried out their paintings. Impressionist paintings from the 1860s that are most striking to us today were often regarded by the artists themselves as “sketches,” not intended for exhibition, and not apparently very highly valued by the artists. The finished version of Claude Monet's Bathers at La Grenouillere is apparently lost; the painting is now known to us only through some preliminary “bad sketches,” as Monet himself described them, such as the one included in this catalog. At this stage of his career, Monet still followed the traditional studio practice of producing oil sketches, in this case one produced on site, that then formed the basis for a more finished painting done in the studio. The distinction between sketch and finished product began to blur as time went on, but one important point this catalog makes is summarized this way: “The most freely worked Impressionist pictures must be seen alongside more finished and elaborate paintings which sometimes represent the accumulation of many layers of paint. Often it seems that the directness of the paintings is more apparent than real” (p. 19). The essay on “Painting in the Open Air” further explores the issue of the immediacy of the impressionists' response to nature and more traditional practices. The authors conclude, “as Monet became more demanding in his attention to minute variations in light and atmosphere, he also seems to have resorted to work in the studio as part of the process of finishing his canvases. In the calm of the studio he was able to retouch his works, perhaps heightening a colour contrast or strengthening a design. In spite of his own declarations about working in plein air he seems to have needed to reflect on his pictures in the studio where he could, on occasion, impose a greater sense of decorative unity on his work” (p. 27).

Also notable among the introductory essays is “Impressionism and the Modern Palette.” Here, in the meticulous tradition of the National Gallery's technical publications on paintings, the traditional and new pigments available to the impressionists are described by color, with synopses of manufacturing procedures, frequently accompanied by photomicrographs of dispersed samples of the pigment, scanning electron photomicrographs, details of passages of paintings in the catalog that utilize a specific pigment, and sometimes cross sections from a painting that contains the pigment. Another chapter deals with binding media, an area of research in which the National Gallery has produced many pioneering contributions over the years. Few detailed analyses of impressionist paint media have been carried out prior to the work done for this catalog, and the short essay is very welcome. Specific results are not given, only conclusions, again probably in deference to the nonspecialist audience. A more detailed discussion of these results has been included in the most recent volume of the National Gallery Technical Bulletin (14 [1993]: 89–91, and notes). Although few detailed studies of impressionists' pigments and media have been published, it would have been useful to include results of other published research within these introductory essays, rather than to refer exclusively to the results produced by work carried out on the National Gallery's own pictures. Given the breadth of material covered and summarized in the introductory essays, inclusion of results from previously published analytical studies would have been logical and made the catalog even more valuable as a reference book than it already is. Recent analytical literature is listed in the bibliography at the end of the book, but could have easily been summarized.

Another notable essay is the one on “The Paint Layers and Surface of Impressionist Paintings,” which through raking light and detail photographs reviews how the painters laid on their paint, again pointing out, with specific reference to Monet, that “Impressionist painters often worked over a longer period of time and in a more complex manner to achieve their apparently spontaneous effects than might be imagined” (p. 91).

Each of the 15 catalog entries attempts within six or seven pages to give background information on the artist's intent and interests and the painting's subject matter and traces the evolution of the image through x-radiographs, microscopic examination, and analysis of samples. The entries are copiously illustrated, with many details and cross sections in color. Five paintings by Monet, three by Camille Pissarro, three by Auguste Renoir, and one each by Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, Alfred Sisley, and Berthe Morisot are included. Although the National Gallery's collection is small, the paintings are representative of the work of the impressionists, from sketches never intended to be exhibited to finished “Salon”-quality works. The paintings by Monet cover the years 1869–81 and permit the evolution of his painting techniques and artistic interests during this period to be traced. The more limited number of paintings by the other artists do not provide a sufficient foundation for such a discussion. To readers familiar with the National Gallery Technical Bulletin, the catalog entries present a familiar, well-considered blend of historical information and technical and analytical data. Once again, in deference to the audience, fewer analytical details are given in the entries than some readers particularly interested in technical studies of paintings may desire. A very useful summary of the palettes of each painting is included.

The catalog concludes with brief biographies of the artists represented, a chronology (1850–86) of important events related to them, and a glossary of technical terms encountered in the catalog entries (such as pigment names and analytical techniques).

The successful attempt to integrate historical information and analytical information, all in a very attractive “coffee table” format, makes this book a very good one. A common thread, addressed from many different angles in the introductory essays and catalog entries, is that the impressionists' working techniques were more complex than is commonly thought, and the usefulness of detailed technical studies in shedding light on this subject is well demonstrated. This book is highly recommended to general readers and specialists alike. It serves as an excellent example of how scientific data can support art historical research.

RichardNewmanMuseum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass. 02115


Copyright 1993 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works