Category Archives: Art Properties

Avery Library Remembers Christopher Gray (1950-2016)

Image Credit: Office for Metropolitan History

Christopher Gray was a major figure in the rising swell of interest in New York City architectural history that began in the aftermath of the demolition of Pennsylvania Station. With a degree in Art History from Columbia in 1975, Chris founded the Office of Metropolitan History that same year to provide research services to historic architectural questions. His research provided historical accuracy to many publications, thereby raising the standards for the field. He became widely known to the public for his column Streetscapes that ran from 1987 to 2014, one of the highlights of the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section. Chris and his staff from the OMH, Suzanne Braley, Melissa Braverman, and Samantha Hightower, were frequently seen at Avery pursuing countless citations, photographs, and drawings.

Avery Library extends its sympathy to his wife, Erin D. Gray, a graduate of Columbia University’s Historic Preservation program, and his family.

 

New York Times Obituary

Architects Newpaper Obituary

Avery Art Properties loans portrait of Da Ponte to NYHS exhibition

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Installation view at The New-York Historical Society: Unknown artist, Portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), ca. 1820, oil on canvas, frame size: 56 x 44 in. (142.2 x 111.7 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York (C00.37)

Art Properties has loaned a painting to the exhibition The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, which is now open at The New-York Historical Society. This exhibition focuses on the historical and cultural lives of Jewish immigrants, forced from their ancestral lands in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean, to newfound freedom in colonial New Amsterdam through early 19th-century New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The painting on loan from the Columbia University art collection is this early 19th-century, three-quarter-length seated portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838). Born in a Jewish ghetto near Venice, Da Ponte later converted to Catholicism and eventually emigrated to the United States where, at the age of 76, he became the first professor of Italian at Columbia College. Da Ponte is best known around the world as the librettist for three operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte. (You can read more about Da Ponte’s colorful life here.)

The painting of Da Ponte and its historical frame were in need of conservation in order to be shown at the exhibition. We are very grateful to Mr. Leonard L. Milberg for providing full financial support to have this work completed. Our thanks also to conservator Stephen Kornhauser and Eli Wilner & Co. for all their hard work restoring Da Ponte’s grandeur for this exhibition.

NYHS website

 

Avery Art Properties in Battle of Brooklyn Exhibition

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Sir William Beechey and studio, Portrait of George III, King of Great Britain (1738-1820), early 19th century, oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 24 5/8 in. (90 x 62.5 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of Mrs. Mary Hill Hill, 1943 (C00.771)

Art Properties has loaned a painting to the exhibition The Battle of Brooklyn which is now open at The New-York Historical Society. This exhibition commemorates the decisive first battle that took place between the rebel forces and the British following the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Although the American forces suffered a tremendous defeat, this battle became a decisive moment in the military campaign led by Washington and his troops.

The painting loaned by Art Properties is this whole-length portrait of King George III (1738-1820), the reigning British monarch during the American Revolution. Painted by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) and his studio, the portrait depicts the monarch wearing the Field-Marshal uniform of a red coat adorned with the Star of the Garter, white breeches, black boots, and a black bicorn hat. In his right hand he holds a cane and in his left a pair of gloves. He stands in a landscape with Windsor Castle in the distance. This portrait is one of a number produced by Beechey’s studio after the success of the original life-size version exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800.

George III was the grandson of George II, the eponymous founder of King’s College. This portrait was donated to Columbia in 1943 by Mrs. Mary Hill Hill, who claimed to have purchased it in England. Remnants of a label on the stretcher, however, also identify the painting as the same sold at the April 2, 1931 auction by American Art Association of works owned by Ehrich Gallery in New York. The purchaser at that time was recorded as a Miss M. Brown. The description of the painting in the catalogue incorrectly describes it as depicting the king as the Prince of Wales and the building in the background as Hatfield House. George III had been king since 1760, so the painting would not depict him as the Prince of Wales at that time, and a visual comparison of images of Hatfield House clearly shows that they are different buildings and that ours is Windsor Castle. There is other evidence that the same painting was sold at a Christie’s London auction in 1926, but its provenance prior to that date is still undetermined.

Conservation Project: Technical Analysis of a Chinese Bodhisattva

Fig1_Tan_S3920_Condition MappingThe mission of Art Properties is to encourage the study and research of works of art from the University art collection. As noted in a previous blog post, in 2013 we began a partnership with the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center as an extension of this educational mission in support of object-centered learning. Not all forms of conservation involve in-depth cleaning and restoration. In some cases the primary concern is scientific study of a work of art in order to better understand its historical origins. The following is an example of how technical analysis of a polychrome wood sculpture from the Art Properties collection has helped us further authenticate its origins to a particular time period and region in China.

Conservation Project & Report by Melissa Tan, 2014

Fig2_S3920_view4_Avery_AP_4160_008Bodhisattva Standing on a Lotus Base
960-1279, Song dynasty, China
Paulownia (foxglove) wood with polychromy
20 3/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 7/8 in. (52.4 x 14 x 12.3 cm)
Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
Columbia University in the City of New York
Sackler Collections (S3920)

This conservation treatment of a Columbia University polychrome wood figure of a Bodhisattva sought to inform the history and manufacture of the object through technical analysis. A primary goal of the research was to determine the region from where the sculpture originated. In general, scholars have had to base attributions of Chinese Buddhist figures on stylistic analysis. This stems from the limited documentation that exists on the de-installation and sale of Buddhist icons during the nineteenth century. More recently, the application of technical art history to Chinese Buddhist wood sculptures has teased out an apparent correlation between wood species and region of production. Whereas willow, linden, and poplar are identified with regions from Northern Manchuria to Shaanxi, the foxglove tree, also known by its botanical name of Paulownia, grows more centrally in China from the Yangtze River westward to Sichuan. Thus, sculptures from the Liao (907-1125), Jin (1115-1234), and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties are generally constructed from willow, whereas statues and figures attributed to the Song dynasty (960-1279) are often carved from Paulownia.

 Fig3_Tan_S3920_WoodID-croppedThe potential to secure the provenance of the Columbia University Bodhisattva warranted conducting wood identification on the sculpture. After discussing the cost-benefit of micro-sampling with Dr. Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, permission was granted to obtain a micro-sample for analysis. Thin shavings were removed from a discrete location and were mounted onto glass slides to be observed under magnification. The analysis revealed that the samples possessed characteristics associated with Paulownia, a deciduous tree native to much of China, though most common in the region noted above from the Yangtze to Sichuan. Use of Paulownia was particularly prevalent during the Song dynasty. Thus, the results of the wood identification suggests that the sculpture may have been produced between the 10th-13th centuries.

 Fig4_Tan_S3920_Radiograph_SideViewThe identification of Paulownia afforded a tangential observation to be made regarding the relationship between wood species and consecratory chambers. As part of the documentation process, the Columbia University Bodhisattva was imaged with X-radiography. In essence, X-radiography uses a high energy source to resolve the internal structure of an object. Examination of the X-radiograph revealed no consecratory chambers present in the Bodhisattva. Only Buddhist sculptures carved in willow have been found to contain consecratory cavities, while statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved from Paulownia have shown to have no such chambers. This discovery thus falls in line with recent findings noted by Denise Leidy, Donna Strahan, and Lawrence Becker in their text Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, pp. 38-39). The ostensible specificity of consecratory material then raises an obvious question: Why do sculptures carved in willow bear consecratory chambers? One explanation may stem from Buddhist lore. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan-yin (also known as Avalokitesvara), is closely tied to the willow. Thus, the religious significance imparted to willow may explain its apparent relationship to consecratory material. This also may suggest, then, that the Columbia University Bodhisattva is not Kuan-yin but rather a different Bodhisattva whose identify remains unidentified.

Ultimately, by studying the sculpture from substrate to surface, the conservation of the Bodhisattva demonstrates how technical analysis can guide decisions on how to approach treatment. Furthermore, the emphasis on research underscores how conservation can contribute to the body of knowledge on art history.

Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project

C00_110Searching for Art Work in the Columbia University Art Collection

For the first time, it is now possible to search for selected works from the Columbia University art collection. Art Properties, Avery Library, is pleased to announce the release of over 2,000 item records for cultural artifacts and works of art. Among the items in this release are more than 400 oil paintings, 650 photographs, 400 drawings, watercolors, and prints, and decorative arts. Also included are records for the entire public outdoor sculpture collection, recent acquisitions to the collection, and highlights from the renowned Sackler Collections of East Asian and Near Eastern art.

This release of descriptive data records in CLIO, the online catalog for Columbia University Libraries, represents approximately 18% of the entire collection stewarded by Art Properties. Additional records will be released on an ongoing basis, making CLIO the primary discovery space for art works in Columbia’s collection. To see a complete listing of the currently available item records:

Below is a sample CLIO record for the work you see above, a portrait of Columbia President Frederick A. P. Barnard, painted by Eastman Johnson in 1886.

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More search tips!

When searching in CLIO for a particular artist or topic, it is possible to narrow search results to show only art works from the collection. To do this, limit Format to “Art Works (Original).” For instance, if you search for “Andy Warhol,” you can limit your format option to see item records for all original works of art by Warhol in the University collection. Other advanced search options include using subject headings such as culture, century, and genre type to expand or narrow your search.

The amount of descriptive information that appears in each item record varies, but these records will be enhanced over time as new research is conducted on the collection. Although there are no images attached to these records, Art Properties gradually is advancing in its initiative to digitize the collection and make images available to the public as well.

Our thanks to colleagues in the Columbia University Libraries’ cataloging and technology divisions for their collaboration with staff from the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and Art Properties on development of the Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project.

Works from the University art collection are available for research and study, curricular integration, and educational programs, as well as for exhibition loans to museums and institutions. To make an appointment to see works from the University art collection, contact Art Properties at 212-854-2877 or artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

 

Prince & Princess of Wales in Butler Library

DSC_0283-croppedsmallerAnyone who has ever visited Butler Library’s main reading room on the 300 level likely has looked up and seen the two life-size royal portraits that have hung high on the south wall for more than fifty years.  Donated by alumnus Edmund Astley Prentis in 1949, these paintings were presented to the University as portraits by unknown artists of Columbia’s eponymous founder King George II and his wife.  However, new research has now been published about these paintings, and the names of the artists and the sitters have been properly identified for the first time.

To learn more about these eighteenth-century British portraits of Prince Frederick Louis and Princess Augusta, read the essay written by Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, and published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Historians of British Art Newsletter.  You can download the PDF for free through Columbia University Academic Commons by going to http://dx.doi.org/10.7916/D84J0F4Z.

Conservation Partnership: Art Properties and IFA Conservation Center

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(The statuette before, during, and after conservation)

In Fall 2013, Art Properties began a program with the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center to loan objects from Columbia’s art collection to the IFA CC so that students could benefit from object-centered learning. The IFA CC offers graduate degrees to students interested in the technical study and preservation of art and cultural heritage objects, such as paintings, sculpture in all media, and ceramics. Each semester one or more professors from the IFA CC have coordinated with the Curator of Art Properties to select works related to courses taught that semester. Examples to date have included the study and preservation of polychrome wood sculpture, as well as marble and bronze figurines.

This cooperative program has been mutually beneficial for both the IFA CC and Columbia. Students have the opportunity to work hands-on cleaning, stabilizing, and analyzing these objects, under the supervision of their Professor and in consultation with the Curator of Art Properties. Student conservation assessments, reports about each stage of their work, and technical photography are added to the Art Properties curatorial files so that future scholars can learn more about these objects in our collection. Below is one example of the work done by these students; future summaries will be posted over time to spread the word about this successful collaborative educational program. — Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties

Conservation Project & Report by Megan Randall, 2014

Image 2-croppedThe Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Probably 18th century, Spanish Colonial Mexico or Mesoamerica
Wood with traces of polychromy and gold leaf, with glass eyes
H. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
Columbia University in the City of New York
Gift of the Estate of Lola Szladits, 1990 (1990.8.25)

This treatment of the Spanish Colonial Virgin from the 18th century was completed as part of my training in the Polychrome Sculpture seminar with Professor Michele Marincola at the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center of New York University. I received the small statuette without any knowledge of its specific historical context or materials. As a result, the amount of information I gained in the examination and technical analysis of the object was significant. Although there are many interesting details of the treatment, research, and analysis of the statuette, this summary will deal with only one aspect of the treatment: the reversal and rejoining of the old repairs in the face of the figure.

Previous repairs to the face were failing. Small flakes of adhesive were loose in the join and the proper right segment of the face was visibly misaligned. In order to restore physical and visual integrity to the work, the adhesive in the join was reversed with ethanol and water and the old adhesive and insect residue on the surfaces were cleaned and slightly contoured to their proper alignment. The reversal of the old join revealed three things: the extent of the (dormant) insect activity in the form of worm holes and larva; the manufacturing method of securing the glass eyes in a ball of resin within a carved socket; and that the join consisted of three pieces instead of the previously-believed one piece.

DT_After Cleaning_HeadThe procedure of reversing the join, cleaning surfaces, and shaping the dry-fit of the three pieces into their proper alignment were completed with time, consideration, and significant restraint in order to achieve the best possible results. The rejoining of the pieces back onto the statuette also had to be done quickly to ensure the adhesive was still tacky. The process was a quick and efficient race of warming the surfaces, adhesive application, and clamping the join. Because this task would only take a minute or less to complete, it was necessary to practice ahead of time the order of the pieces to be adhered and the placement of the clamps so that any kinks in the process were considered and resolved prior to the treatment.

The surfaces were slightly heated with a radiant heat tool to encourage the affinity of the surfaces to the also-warm adhesive. Next, the warm adhesive, a 30% hide glue in distilled water, was applied to the surfaces with a brush, and the pieces were re-adhered to the statuette. Pressure was applied to the joins by using small clamps to ensure that the surfaces were properly connected. The clamps were left in place for 24 hours, then removed and inspected. The success of this phase of the treatment was thrilling. The treatment achieved the goals of restoring physical and visual integrity to the statuette and provided an ideal educational scenario to employ future treatment methods.DT_Clamping Detail

 

Avery Art Properties at the Norton Museum of Art

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Florine Stettheimer, Jenny and Genevieve, ca. 1915, oil on canvas, 32 x 43 3/8 in. (81.2 x 110.3 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Ettie Stettheimer, 1967 (1967.23.27)

Art Properties has loaned six paintings by Florine Stettheimer and a drawing by Marguerite Zorach to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, for their current exhibition O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York. This exhibition considers the art and careers of Marguerite Zorach, Florine Stettheimer, Helen Torr, and Georgia O’Keeffe together for the first time. These women all knew one another and worked in New York. They sought to be recognized as artists in their own right, but their identity as women shaped the circumstances under which they worked, the forms their art took, and the way their pictures were interpreted. Among the works on loan from Art Properties is Stettheimer’s vibrantly-colored painting Jenny and Genevieve, which was conserved for this show. In this work the artist explores class and racial distinctions in her depiction of a black servant and a white customer in a cafe.

The Curl is back!!

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Clement Meadmore’s large public outdoor sculpture has returned to its home in front of Uris Hall!

Conservation Solutions recently reinstalled The Curl after it was offsite almost three months for conservation. A tent was erected for on-site painting and curing, after which it was rededicated in a ceremony held on December 16, 2015.

Thanks to Conservation Solutions and Columbia’s partners in this multi-year project: Office of the Provost, Columbia Business School, Columbia University Facilities, Columbia University Libraries, the Meadmore Task Force and the Committee on Art Properties.

To see a video of the rededication and more about The Curl  click here.

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Clement Meadmore, The Curl, 1968, Cor-Ten steel with paint, Gift of Percy Uris (1968.3.1), Photo: Brett Essler, Columbia Business School.

CUL/IS Showcase Donor-Funded Conservation of Important Portrait

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Columbia University Libraries Showcase Donor-Funded Conservation of Important Portrait

NEW YORK, November 1, 2015 – Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ (CUL/IS) Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Art Properties, and the Health Sciences Library, Archives & Special Collections, are pleased to showcase the end result of a major conservation project generously funded by donors Geraldine and Robert J. Dellenback. Portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) was painted by the British artist Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661). The painting is oil on panel and signed and dated 1626. It was a bequest in 1974 to the College of Physicians and Surgeons from the estate of Dr. Jerome P. Webster, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery at Columbia, and is part of the Jerome P. Webster Library of Plastic Surgery housed in Archives & Special Collections. “It has been an honor to have provided the funds for the restoration of the remarkable portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby so that at last it might be in the place of honor it richly deserves,” said Mrs. Dellenback, the daughter of Dr. Webster. “This generous donation from the Dellenbacks,” adds Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, “has been instrumental in helping us properly care for one of the finest British paintings in the Columbia University art collection, and continue to advance our mission of using the art collection at Columbia for educational programming, curricular integration, and research/study by students, faculty, and outside scholars.”

Over time, the structure of the painting’s wood panels had separated, paint losses continued to worsen, and the varnish had aged and altered the appearance of the picture, leading to the decision to place it in the temperature- and humidity-controlled storage vault of Art Properties until funds could be raised to pay for its full conservation. With funds donated by the Dellenbacks, Art Properties contracted with New York City-based specialists from Thomas Art Conservation and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who worked on the painting in 2014. They restructured the wood panels, restored the frame, and conserved and cleaned the surface of the painting, revealing the exquisite portrait hidden beneath centuries of accumulated grime.

The artist, also known as Cornelis Janssen van Ceulen, was born in London, the son of exiles from Antwerp. His artistic career began during the latter years of James I. The portrait of Digby dates from the early part of the artist’s career, when he began moving away from depicting sitters in oval windows, but before he transitioned fully to painting works on canvas rather than wood panel. In her recent book on the artist, Karen Hearn, a retired curator from the National Portrait Gallery in London and Honorary Professor at University College London, has cited this portrait as one of the earliest examples of Johnson’s “melancholy-style,” another prime example of which is in the collection of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

Digby, the sitter, was a member of an old and distinguished gentry family, although his father had been executed for collaboration in the Gunpowder Plot to kill the king and members of Parliament. Before he was twenty years of age, Digby had traveled extensively to Italy, France, and Spain, and in 1623 he was knighted and named a gentleman of the privy chamber of Charles I, then still Prince of Wales. Soon after this portrait was completed in 1626, Digby had a brief but successful career as a commander in the British navy, but after the unexpected death of his wife in 1633 he turned to the study of natural sciences and philosophy, and authored a number of treatises based on his own scientific and medical experiments. Digby’s work on the healing properties of the occult “powder of sympathy” included several references to the pioneering work of the Italian plastic surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi (1545-1599), whose biography Dr. Webster co-authored in the 1950s.

The Columbia University art collection, stewarded by Art Properties and based in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, comprises over 10,000 works of fine and decorative art objects in all media from all time periods and all cultures. The portrait is on display in the Archives & Special Collections Geraldine McAlpin Webster Reading Room at the Health Sciences Library, and is available for viewing by appointment only. Archives & Special Collections serves as the archives for Columbia’s four health science schools, holds a 27,000-volume rare book library in the history of the health sciences, and has a growing number of personal papers. The Jerome P. Webster Library of Plastic Surgery forms part of the department’s holdings and is considered one of the world’s most comprehensive collections on the subject, with works dating from the 15th through the 20th centuries.

Image credit: Cornelius Johnson, Portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), 1626, oil on panel, 31 x 24 in. (78.7 x 61 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Dr. Jerome Webster (Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery) to the College of Physicians and Surgeons (C00.1308). Pre-conservation photo: Avery Library. Post-conservation photo: Juan Trujillo.