Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is Alex Colville's Horse and Train Growing Dark and Cracking with Time???

Oh a Canadian iconic work of art deteriorating before our eyes and cracking?

The following excerpt has been extracted from 'The Canadian Heritage', a newsletter from the Canadian Conservation Institute.

"Horse and Train, by Alex Colville, is an icon in Canadian art. The unsettling image of a horse running towards an oncoming train, combined with the precision of the artist’s technique, is captured in the memory of all who have seen the painting or one of the many reproductions of the image. Upon viewing the painting, art gallery visitors often comment that it is darker than they recall, questioning whether it is changing in tone over time. It had also been noticed that there is a cracquelure over the painting’s surface, a condition rarely seen in Colville’s work..........
A technical examination was done to determine the nature and cause of the craquelure and to determine if the painting’s appearance had changed significantly due to darkening. Such an assessment requires familiarity with the artist’s materials and techniques. Colleagues in several institutions — the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the New Brunswick Museum, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) — allowed the author to examine other works by Colville, and to study associated documentation in the gallery files. They also provided insightful comments on the condition and treatment of various Colville works. This investigation culminated in discussions with the artist himself."

Upon seeing the painting, Mr. Colville was relieved to observe its condition and felt its appearance had not changed in a major way. There was nothing in the technical examination to suggest the painting had become darker. It is dark because it was painted that way. The tone was created by a deliberate choice of colour and pigmented glazes. The artist completed his vision by designing and constructing a frame that accentuates the somber, dark impact of the work. Mr. Colville noted: “Right from the beginning, I thought of this painting as dark; dark in the visual sense and in the metaphysical sense.”1

Colville’s technical process is thorough, meticulous and deliberate. He makes every effort to impart a high degree of permanence to his works. “I really want the paintings to last. Right from the beginning, I’ve always felt this way. The idea that some painters have, that they actually like the paintings to age and transform ... there’s nothing I’d like more to avoid.” Since the late 1950s, he has often written detailed notes on the reverse of his paintings, describing the materials used: “I thought the more information I give for possible use by conservators and so on, the better.”

Horse and Train is in good condition; however, there is a fine cracquelure over the surface. This type of cracking, often referred to as drying cracquelure, could have been caused by the materials he used. It is also likely that an ill-advised cleaning attempt, early in the life of the painting, could have contributed to the problem. A light surface cleaning has recently been completed. Inpainting of minor abrasions to the painting and the original frame will be done soon."

To read the unedited copy, please click here:

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