THE IMPACT OF RESEARCH ON THE LINING AND CLEANING OF EASEL PAINTINGS
JOYCE HILL STONER
6 AWARENESS OF WHAT IS YET TO BE SOLVED
R. J. Gettens and G. L. Stout kept updated lists of areas in need of further investigation during the early days of the Fogg (Fogg Art Museum 1930). This precedent was continued with lists compiled by the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (1984) and a report of an AIC membership survey compiled by Eric Hansen and Chandra Reedy for the AIC Task Force on Conservation Science (Hansen and Reedy 1994).
Some survey respondents noted that research is sometimes unrelated to actual treatment situations or relies on unaffordable equipment. Nathan Stolow commented in his FAIC oral history interview that the Canadian Conservation Institute was designed with windows in the scientific laboratories that obliged the scientists to look down into the treatment areas where the actual work had to be carried out (Stolow 1976).
About a dozen respondents noted that our field often comes across as hostile to new ideas. However, the current principles of minimal intervention can be traced back not only to the hope of Pettenkoffer but also the 1940 Manual on the Conservation of Paintings(International Museums Office 1940). From the section on lining:
There are however, cases of well-preserved canvas paintings, several centuries old, which do not yet need relining…. Many curators maintain that paintings should be interfered with as little as possible (212).
And from the section on cleaning:
It is often suggested that, in cases where it is necessary to disturb the varnish, only the upper portion of it should be removed, leaving the remainder before getting dangerously near the original paint (124).
Max Planck noted in Scientific Autobiography (1949, 33–34): “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” All of our “current” points of view are of course subject to what future conservators choose to make of them. Perhaps one of the best things we can do for each other and our students in the time we have is to point calmly to the doors we need to open to learn more about what we do not yet know.
The author would like to thank Chandra L. Reedy for preparing the statistics and also the conservators who returned surveys.