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Wednesday, May 15 • 9:00am - 9:20am
(Opening Session) The Academy as Community: Leveraging Common Treatment to Expand Understanding and Audience

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Few paintings in the Yale Center for British Art are as damaged as Bartholomew Dandridge's A Young Girl with an Enslaved Servant and a Dog, (ca. 1725). Long consigned to storage with a thick, yellowed varnish and expanses of discolored overpaint, the murky conversation piece was rarely seen in the galleries. It had no community of scholars, no audience nor appreciation and in our presentation, we will argue, little understanding. Twentieth century British scholarly practice emphasized eighteenth century grand manner portraiture by artists such as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, or nineteenth century British landscapes by the accepted greats William Turner and John Constable. The works of older, lesser-known masters fell to the background and their rich histories, which tell stories of artist's migration, colonial enterprise, and racial relations have, until recently, been ignored. Additionally, in New Haven, a diverse city where every third grader in public school visits Yale's museums, the display of black sitters needed reconsideration. When proposed for inclusion in the exhibition "Figures of Empire: Slavery and Portraiture in Eighteenth Century Atlantic Britain," the painting conservation department gasped. Old restoration obscured and misinterpreted Dandridge's composition; the harmony of the scene was thrown off balance by the figures' disparate readability. Layers of old varnish warmed the color temperature of the sitters' skin and skewed the reading of the black slave to a generic figure rather than an observed, possibly from life, portrait. The space of the painting, and thus the distance between the owner and owned was compressed by a coating that darkened highlights and lightened the darks, supporting the argument that a cleaned painting would permit a truer view of its original content and intended social dynamic. The project offered an opportunity to engage routine painting conservation with the contemporary academic discourse on the depiction of race in Western painting, supported by technical analysis to explore the picture's paint structure and degradation. It also provided insight into Dandridge's fairly unstudied painting practice, a style described as English Rococo underpinned by the technical traditions of immigrant artist Godfrey Kneller and the St. Martin's Lane Academy. Our presentation will review what is a routine painting treatment and describe how the project grew to include a community of curators, art history faculty, scientists, graduate students in the history of art, school of art, and painting conservation. The finished project helped all to better understand the picture's place in the history of art and aesthetics as well as broaden the Yale Center of British Art's relevance to New Haven's population. Beyond that it has also sparked a deeper investigation into the portrayal of flesh tones in British painting history with direct relevance to contemporary discussion of race in America and the world.

avatar for Mark Aronson

Mark Aronson

Conservator, Yale Center for British Art
Mark Aronson is the Chief Conservator of the Yale Center for British Art and Chair of the Shared Conservation Laboratory at Yale's Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. He is also a critic at the Yale School of Art. He received his M.S. in the conservation and preservation... Read More →

avatar for Jessica J. David

Jessica J. David

Conservator, Yale Center for British Art
Jessica David is the Senior Paintings Conservator at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. She received her Post-graduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from The Hamilton Kerr Institute in 2007 and was subsequently a Kress Conservation Fellow at The Frans Hals... Read More →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 9:00am - 9:20am EDT
Salon A & B, Uncas Ballroom
  General Session, Opening General Session