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Subject: Exhibition and transport of Seurat painting

Exhibition and transport of Seurat painting

From: Robert J. Milevski <milevski>
Date: Friday, February 24, 1995
The following appeared on Museum-l and is reproduced here without the
knowledge or consent of the author.

    Date: 23 Feb 95
    Sender: Museum discussion list <museum-l [at] unmvma__bitnet>
    From: justabuz <butane [at] cpcn__com>
    Subject: Seurat Les Poseuses risked in Barnes show at Phila.

    This posting addresses the facts behind the decision of the
    Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation trustees to
    endanger the rare and fragile Seurat painting, The Models for
    inclusion in the exhibit at the Museum of Art.

    In 1992, politically motivated trustees, eager to turn the Barnes
    Foundation's school into a full-time museum, petitioned the court to
    allow a tour of paintings that violated the Foundation's Indenture
    of Trust.  Bowing to political pressure, the court ultimately
    accepted the Trustees' highly publicized bid. However, testimony in
    the hearings, ignored by the local media, revealed the fragile state
    of several works including The Models, that the Barnes Trustees and
    their Museum sponsors insisted on touring.

    Supporters of the Foundation's art education program presented
    testimony by the Foundations' former painting conservator Wendy

    Samet was familiar with the fragility of certain works and opposed
    their traveling under any circumstances.  However, she was dismissed
    by Foundation President Richard Glanton shortly before the tour-plan
    was made public.  Glanton claimed she was dismissed because "the
    Foundation [could] obtain expert service at no cost from the
    National Gallery." The National Gallery's director later denied its
    involvement in any conservation treatment such as Samet performed.
    The American Institute for Conservation's president, Paul
    Himmelstein, called Samet "highly qualified" in an Inquirer article
    published shortly after her firing.

    Samet was asked under oath,, June 9, 1992 "Why do you have the
    opinion that [Seurat's Models] should not be allowed to tour no
    matter what conservation is performed?"  She replied: "Because when
    I was up on scaffolding looking at it closely, I noticed that it had
    a long history of flaking.  The painting has been lined. It has been
    treated in the past. Because of the materials and the way they were
    applied by Mr. Seurat, they are not well bound to the canvas. And
    there's a history of chronic flaking of the paint, chronic loss of
    paint, which although you can address it locally setting down each
    flake as it's loose, its whole construction makes it insecure and
    makes that type of flaking likely. I would recommend that it go to
    one spot  [during the closing of the Foundation's galleries],
    preferably with as little travel and crating and jostling as

    The 1991 National Gallery of Art publication Art in Transit,
    includes a handbook "describing procedures that will enable packers,
    registrars, curators, and conservators to effectively use the
    results of the research of specialists in the field." The handbook
    advises caution when considering loan of glue lined paintings such
    as The Models "Since glue and paste lining adhesives are very
    susceptible to dimensional changes with relative humidity
    variations."  It further recommends "The painting should not have a
    history of chronic instability in the support or paint layer such as
    recurring paint flaking. Such chronic problems indicate an unstable
    structure that is more responsive to environmental changes making
    the painting more vulnerable  and increases the loan risks."

    A February 1993  report by the National Gallery's Ross Merrill
    confirms Samet's observations. "Flaking has occurred... insecure
    paint was found along the edges." However Merrill recommended that
    the work "in its present state is secure for travel."  Ignoring
    Samet's testimony, and relying on Merrill's the Court approved The
    Models' travel to Washington, Paris, Tokyo and Philadelphia.

    In January of 1994, Merrill inspected the Barnes works in Tokyo.  He
    then recommended against The Models being allowed to travel to two
    new venues added by the Barnes trustees after his original
    assessment. Merrill's specious argument insisted that the painting
    suffered no damage, but that the additional venues would create
    "undue risk" Common sense would dictate that either the work had
    been weakened since it left the Barnes Foundation, or it was too
    weak to start, as foretold by Wendy Samet two years earlier.

    With this questionable conservation history in mind, the judge who
    allowed the tour ordered the Seurat "returned to The Barnes
    Foundation at the close of the exhibition in Tokyo." However, the
    Barnes trustees and the Museum of Art quietly added the Seurat to
    the Philadelphia exhibition list and included it on the cover of the
    catalog.  With some last minute legal wrangling, the kind which the
    powerful have always been able to pull off, the Seurat was allowed
    in the current show. Clearly, the safety of the painting should have
    come before catalog sales and ticket promotions, but this is not a
    polite topic for the media, most of whom are now feeding off the
    Museum's "planned marketing budget of $247,000."

    For further information write: Barnes Watch, Post Office Box 49
    Broomall, PA 19008.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 8:68
                Distributed: Saturday, February 25, 1995
                        Message Id: cdl-8-68-002
Received on Friday, 24 February, 1995

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