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Wednesday, May 15 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Paintings) Turmoil, Ruination, and the Sea: Technical Study of Werner Heldt’s "Still Life At the Window"

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"Still Life at the Window" (1950) by Werner Heldt was acquired by the Harvard Art Museums in 2017 in the context of the exhibition "Inventur: Art in Germany, 1943-55", an investigation into the art produced in Germany at the end of, and immediately after, the Second World War. Technical investigation of the painting undertaken at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies represents the first known material study of Heldt’s work. While he is a relative unknown in the US, Werner Heldt was a prolific and important figure in mid-century Berlin. Primarily consisting of paintings and drawings, Heldt’s work depicts the city of Berlin in varying degrees of abstraction; key objects and themes recur, including picture frames, instruments, crowds, and the ocean, building a story of loss and fear in pre- and post-war Germany. This is particularly clear in "Still Life at the Window", a work from the series "Berlin by the Sea", in which an abstracted still life is set against waves crashing through Berlin. Technical study of "Still Life at the Window" was undertaken in order to clarify the unusually large abstract shape in the foreground of the still life, which appeared to have been re-worked, and to learn more about the materials Heldt used during the post-war period, a time of material scarcity. An anomaly in "Still Life at the Window", the abstract form was similar to shapes seen in Heldt’s later paintings, suggesting that the painting may present a key transitional moment in his oeuvre. Imaging with x-radiography and near-infrared photography revealed a thoughtfully designed composition in which Heldt can be seen actively negotiating between figurative and abstract painting, making many small changes. XRF, FTIR, and GC-MS were used to investigate his materials, revealing Heldt’s modification of certain colors to achieve specific effects. These findings, underscored by his deliberate, creative approach to paint application, demonstrate the importance of "Still Life at the Window" to Heldt and position it as a seminal work in his move towards abstraction. Conservation issues related to Heldt’s modification of his paint were also explored, as were the development and use of PVA-based ground preparation, which was found on Heldt’s commercially-prepared canvas.

avatar for Anne Schaffer

Anne Schaffer

Paintings Conservation Fellow, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Anne Schaffer received her M.A. in Paintings Conservation from Buffalo State College in 2016, and is currently the Paintings Conservation Fellow at the Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Anne previously held a Samuel H. Kress Fellowship at... Read More →

avatar for Georgina Rayner

Georgina Rayner

Associate Conservation Scientist, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Georgina Rayner is the Associate Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums. Prior to this role Georgina was the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science at the same institution. Georgina holds a Masters... Read More →
avatar for Kate Smith

Kate Smith

Conservator of Paintings, Straus Center/Harvard Art Museums
Kate Smith is Conservator of Paintings and head of the paintings lab at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums. Kate received her Masters in Conservation in 2001 from the Buffalo State College program. She went on to work as assistant conservator... Read More →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Salon B2, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Paintings
  • Track Paintings
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Anne Schaffer, Dr. Georgina Rayner, Kate Smith
  • Abstract ID 18814
  • Tags painting,oil paint,Germany,1950,modern,technical study