The DMA’s conservation team works on a variety of projects throughout the year. DMA Associate Conservator Laura Hartman shared insights on one fascinating project in the Fall issue of the DMA Member magazine, Artifacts.
In 1925, Dallas philanthropist Gertrude (Trudie) Terrell Munger endowed a fund for acquisitions to the Museum’s permanent collection. For over ninety years, the Munger Fund has been instrumental in the purchase of some of the DMA’s greatest treasures across its encyclopedic collection. These include Claude Monet’s The Seine at Lavacourt, Camille Pissarro’s Apple Picking at Eragny-sure-Epte, and the important old-master painting Basket of Flowers by Osias Beert the Elder. This spring, the Munger Fund acquired another world-class work: Flowers in a Vase with Two Doves, a beautifully preserved 19th-century painting by the Lyonnais artist François Lepage. The DMA’s conservation team examined it under the microscope to study the artist’s technique a bit closer.
Exquisite in its highly polished finish and attention to detail, Flowers in a Vase with Two Doves is meticulously painted and beautifully preserved, making its examination both enjoyable and an important opportunity to see a work of art as intended by the artist. Lepage has been described as a methodical and slow painter, and it has been suggested that it took him four years to complete this work. At first glance, the surface appears smooth and highly refined, but when observed under magnification each meticulous brushstroke becomes evident, revealing a surprisingly free and painterly technique.
Droplets of water, for example, are expertly applied to petals and leaves to create a convincing optical effect. These droplets, when observed under magnification, reveal a somewhat abbreviated painting approach.
Lepage also used his brush to quite literally add texture, heightening the illusion of tactile effects. Tiny details reveal the use of linear and directive brushstrokes in dialogue with such small highlights as the textured dots found along the butterfly’s wing and at the center of the chamomile flowers.
Microscopic examination of works of art often reveals important and interesting perspectives not immediately visible to the naked eye. This type of study allows conservators to better care for each work of art, giving a fundamental look into an artist’s working techniques.
—Laura Hartman is the Associate Conservator at the DMA.