Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Return of Autumn

Today is the autumnal equinox--the first day of autumn. The arrival of the season marks the return of Autumn, one of Frederic Edwin Church's early masterpieces, to Olana after nearly a year's absence. Earlier this week, Autumn was returned to its place in the East Parlor of the Main House.

The painting's return during the year that marks the fiftieth anniversary of the saving of Olana is appropriate. Much of the work just completed by Mary Betlejeski, conservator for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, involved undoing a heavy-handed restoration of the painting that was done in the 1960s. That restoration was meant to get Autumn and other Church paintings ready to be sold at auction. Betlejeski, who has been working on Church paintings since 1990, explained that her work on Autumn began with multiple tests, including ultraviolet light and radiography, to determine the location and degree of overpainting that had occurred during the previous restoration. There were areas of loss when the painting was restored in the 1960s, and Betlejeski discovered evidence that suggested the previous restorer had worked quickly and possibly used an airbrush. When the overpaint and varnish from the 1960s restoration had been removed, Betlejeski then needed to address the areas of loss.

The image of the painting above is a post card showing the painting before its most recent conservation. Valerie Balint, interim director of collections and research for The Olana Partnership, spoke of how the color of the painting had been "dulled out and uniform." The area of light at the center of the painting, she explained, was "completely unreadable." That is no longer the case, but to see the transformation, readers will have to make a visit to Olana.

The frame of painting has also been restored by frame conservator Eric Price. In addition to cleaning, his work addressed both finish loss and loss of detail, particularly on the lower part of the frame. The repetitive pattern of the frame detail allowed him to cast elements to replace the scattered losses. Then the areas were regilded, and the new gold blended to make it consistent with the original gilding. 

On Saturday, November 26, Betlejeski will be at Olana to talk about her work on Autumn. The event takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. Click here for more information.

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