CONSERVATION OF THE DARNAULT MIRROR: AN ACRYLIC EMULSION COMPENSATION SYSTEM
CYNTHIA MOYER, & GORDON HANLON
This paper is the result of an evolving treatment initiated by Nancie Ravenel and Gordon Hanlon at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1992. The first part of their work focused on the technical and aesthetic considerations taken into account in determining a course of treatment, particularly cleaning systems and loss compensation systems, for a badly degraded, water-gilded, 1751 French rococo period mirror frame in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (U.86.4). The mirror originally had been part of a boiserie, or paneled room (Ravenel 1994). This paper draws on that initial materials analysis, solubility and permeation testing, and compensation method sampling and elaborates on a re-evaluation of the results. The initial work provided a foundation for further cleaning tests and ultimately for a decision as to how to ingild and compensate the surface losses. This paper brings to light those conclusions.
As we set out on the second treatment phase, we grappled with the two initial main goals. The first goal, which is applicable to all conservation treatments, was to preserve the material integrity of the object, especially, in this case, what was left of the 20–40% of the delicately recut gesso and the water-gilding layer. By opening the search to materials not considered in the first phase, we were able to devise an alternative cleaning system and a surface loss compensation system that achieved the appropriate aesthetic, accomplished with what we have come to describe as an acrylic emulsion inpainting mordant system. The second goal was to satisfy the curatorial requirement that the mirror be integrated into the gallery display with other gilded objects that were in far better preserved and restored condition. An important requirement of the appearance of the mirror frame was to have it harmonize with the other gilt wood objects to be displayed in the rococo gallery installation at the new Getty Center in West Los Angeles, scheduled to open to the public in 1997. These objects include the Contant d'Ivry–designed, gilt wood, rococo period console table, ca. 1750, which will be displayed below the Darnault mirror panel ensemble, and the rococo period Tilliard bed, ca. 1750, which is water-gilded in both lemon and deep-colored leaf. The console table and the bed have dissimilar but nevertheless restored surfaces. Although the console table was restored in England, the bed was treated in Paris. There remains a strong emphasis within the European gilding community to restore degraded gilded surfaces with traditional materials, sometimes completely regessoing, recutting, and releafing the surface. Gilt wood pieces of French origin in the Getty collection have been treated in Parisian ateliers for restoration or regilding in the past. The craft tradition there remains strong, with many talented gilders in residence and with training and apprenticeships in traditional gilding techniques still available as they have been for centuries.
In this paper, we will first describe some of the provenance history concerning the mirror frame's attribution and provide a physical description of the mirror. The next section is a review of the first phase of the treatment, followed by an overview of the specifics of the second phase, which includes a description of the condition of the mirror between the two phases and the continued cleaning and compensation with the materials we tested and ultimately used. The paper ends with conclusions describing the attributes and potential drawbacks, as we see them, of this system.