Teaching Ideas

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • The painting received structural treatment in 1959 to restore its loose canvas.

  • The DMA’s paintings conservator has also removed the layer of varnish that was applied in 1959.

  • What is varnish? Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective film used to “seal” a painting. You may be familiar with the term varnish in reference to wood finishes for floors or furniture.

  • If varnish is a protective film, why would we want to remove it?

  • Conservation practices have changed over time. It is now a conservator’s priority to maintain the artwork in the condition that most-closely resembles the artist’s original intent. With time, the varnish, although originally transparent, caused the colors in the painting to darken. Also, as evidenced in the photograph of the painting under ultraviolet light, the varnish had been applied too thickly and left brushstrokes across the painting.

  • Do you think a conservator’s first priority should be to honor the artist’s intention? Or, should the conservator use all possible methods to increase the longevity of the work for future generations? Why or why not?

  • What similarities can you identify between the role of a conservator and the role of a scientist?
    A knowledge of the physical properties of materials
    A knowledge of the micro and macro environment surrounding the object
    A knowledge of the process of deterioration
    Ability to utilize scientific equipment, such as an x-ray
    Maintaining careful records and documentation of their entire process