Musée D'Orsay puts conservation on show
August 16 2016
The New York Times reports on the Musée D'Orsay's decision to let visitors see the cleaning of works such as Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize's 'Women of Gaul'. I'm always in favour of this sort of thing - it not only encourages visitors to look more closely at pictures, but can also help demystify the science of conservation.
Letting the public see the cleaning, however, is not to every conservator's taste:
For the conservators — a profession dominated by women — the attention to such a solitary métier is gratifying. But they were trained to use swabs and tools to thin and swipe away old varnish. Many found it difficult to cope with waves of noise, abrupt public announcements and, sometimes, rapping against the protective glass cube. Not to mention the limits on their use of chemical solvents because of their proximity to the public.
Laurence Didier, who leads the independent team of 13 conservators restoring “The Women of Gaul,” had never worked in public before. She said that it took time to become accustomed to an audience, even though conservators faced the canvas with their backs to visitors.
“Everyone is different and has their own style,” she said. “I need absolute calm, and so I have my headphones playing Baroque music or Vivaldi.”
Cécile Bringuier, who leads the second team on the Courbet restoration, also said she is not a fan of conservators on display. “Would you like to be watched while you work?”
Incidentally, that is an interesting remark that conservators are mostly women: it's true, but I've never stopped to think why, or when that became so. Anyone have any thoughts?
Update - a reader writes:
Update II - another reader writes:
Regarding why more women work in conservation than men: more women study Art History, and therefore there are more women to go into conservation - you usually need an Art History degree before you can do post-graduate studies in conservation. What I found interesting when I studied (which was over a decade ago) was the ratio of men to women - more women were studying art history than men, more women were teaching than men, but more men in the institution were Professors and also more men ran major art institutions and galleries. I don't know if these stats still stand, or are international, but they were the reality when I was a student. The only area wholly dominated by women was Conservation. I know the TV is now spattered with female historians and curators etc. but I don't know how that stacks up in the Art History world, having been out of it for so long. There seem to be limited male art historians on TV (presenting whole series) and they don't seem to be of a Phd level or higher - but journalists, while the women on TV seem to be curators or university tutors/ fellows etc.
These are just my observations as a (now) armchair Art Historian.