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Thursday, June 1 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Paintings) Conserving the Paintings of Romaine Brooks

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Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) was an American expatriate living in France for most of her life. She exhibited at the Galleries Durand-Ruel in Paris and was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor in recognition of the service her art had rendered to France. The largest body of her work is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Brooks embraced a nineteenth-century romantic mythology of a struggling artist even though her wealth and independence allowed her the freedom to explore both painting and drawing media for personal expression. Brooks was able to travel abroad and set up temporary studios to her specifications in order to paint a portrait of someone when it interested her. Romaine Brooks' paintings are primarily portraits of friends who were leading figures in the arts and humanities of France, Italy and England. To date most art historians have focused on the biography of Romaine Brooks and theme of sexual identity. This paper will review the painting technique of Romaine Brooks based on the examination of over 25 paintings and the conservation of 18 paintings for the exhibition "The Art of Romaine Brooks” held at SAAM in 2016. Concepts of modernity in painted subjects and formal composition will also be discussed. Brooks' interest in framing is found in her delineated borders on paint surfaces and exemplified in the sophisticated frame finishes found on many of her frames. Parallels between the work of Romaine Brooks and Whistler are found in the approach to framing and also the role of the artist in designing gallery exhibitions. Romaine Brooks was known for her interest and talent in interior decoration and design and it is clear that her paintings and drawings were integral to the aesthetic environments she created in her various homes. Brooks's knowledge of painting materials and techniques must have come from an academic setting. In nineteenth-century England and France a significant amount of published information on painting technique existed. How much of this Brooks read and how much she engaged in discussions about painting practice is not known. Examining her paintings indicates that in practice she appears to have adopted her own approach to toning grounds and building up glazes. Brooks's use of resin mixed with oil in many of her paintings has made cleaning virtually impossible. Reasons for why Brooks chose to use the mixture of media will be explored. The effects of altered colors will be evaluated in relation to paintings that do not have admixtures of resin to oil. The approach to conserving paintings for the recent exhibition will be presented. The conservation history of the paintings in the collection at SAAM will be discussed in relation to other works by Brooks in Paris. Recent choices made regarding cleaning, varnishing and retouching will be presented. The approach to lighting design in the recent exhibition will also be discussed as different filters were used to help reduce the perception of an uneven yellowed resin in the paintings.

avatar for Tiarna M. Doherty, [PA]

Tiarna M. Doherty, [PA]

Chief of Conservation, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Tiarna became Chief of Conservation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2011. Previously, Tiarna worked for nine years as a paintings conservator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in both chemistry and art history from Tufts University... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower

Attendees (85)