SPECIAL ISSUE: ALBERT BIERSTADT AND 19TH-CENTURY AMERICAN ART
An exhibition of paintings by the American artist Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) was held at the Brooklyn Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., 1991–92. To prepare for the exhibition, curators and conservators at the participating museums investigated the methods of construction and painting techniques found in Bierstadt's paintings as well as significant historical information about the artist. Bierstadt was on the leading edge of what was then current technology, utilizing panel-back stretchers to protect his paintings and incorporating the latest photographic procedures in evolving his images. A computer database of technical information on Bierstadt's paintings was developed, and several important discoveries made in the course of research aided both conservators and art historians in resolving conservation treatment and attribution questions. Investigation into Bierstadt's use of photography in his painting process continues. Several conservators involved in the project, with specific expertise in various aspects of Bierstadt's work or related 19th-century artists' practices, have generously shared their information for this issue of the Journal of the Ámerican Institute for Conservation (JAIC).
During the Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise exhibition in 1991, the National Gallery of Art held a symposium jointly hosted by the Conservation Division and the Education Division of the gallery and sponsored by The Circle of the National Gallery. This two-day symposium included lectures by curators, art historians, and conservators, who focused on Bierstadt's painting materials and techniques or related issues of 19th-century painting materials. It was the intention of the National Gallery of Art to publish presentations from the Bierstadt Symposium, but time and federal budget reductions conspired to prevent publication. While the symposium lectures resolved some issues raised by Bierstadt's art, conservators have pursued additional questions for the papers published here. I am pleased that JAIC has recognized the importance of these studies and has seen the project to publication.
ROSS MERRILL is chief of conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.