Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao restores Van Dyck's "Lamentation over the Dead Christ"

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Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao restores Van Dyck's "Lamentation over the Dead Christ"
Anthony Van Dyck, (Antwerp, Belgium, 1599-London, 1641), Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1634-1640. Oil on canvas. 156.5 x 256.7 cm. Acquired in 1985.

BILBAO.- Every year, Iberdrola finances restoration work on a series of works from the Museum of Fine Arts' permanent collection under its Conservation & Restoration programme. The power corporation also provides the financing for a training and research grant in the Conservation & Restoration Department itself.

In 2015 work has been done on a monumental oil painting by the Flemish master Anthony Van Dyck, showing the scene of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, on the work that best sums up Basque painter Gustavo de Maeztu's early mature period, The Blind Man of Calatañazor, a mythological figure in plaster by Bilbao sculptor Quintín de Torre and a work by contemporary Basque artist Andrés Nagel from the early 1980s identified as number 82029. Finally, in the works on paper section, restoration work begun the previous year continued on a set of drawings dating from the later decades of the 19th century by Bilbao artist Roberto Laplaza.

ANTHONY VAN DYCK, (Antwerp, Belgium, 1599-London, 1641), Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1634-1640. Oil on canvas. 156.5 x 256.7 cm. Acquired in 1985
Here Van Dyck portrays one of the most moving sequences of Christ's Passion. He achieves a dramatic effect by illuminating the face of the Virgin while keeping Christ's in shadow. Light appears to emanate from Christ's beautifully rendered naked body, which the white shroud barely conceals. Painted during the final period of Van Dyck's life in London, where he worked for Charles I, the picture follows the king's idealization-friendly aesthetic guidelines, which included elegance in rendering figures, balance in composition and a restrained colour range.

TREATMENT: Surface cleaned and oxidized varnish, stains and dirt removed. Colour replaced in small gaps and support deformations corrected. Frame cleaned and gilt losses reconstructed. Conservation mounting.

GUSTAVO DE MAEZTU (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1887-Estella-Lizarra, Navarra, 1947), The Blind Man of Calatañazor, c. 1915. Oil on canvas. 151 x 161 cm. Acquired in 1917
In this, the most representative work of Maeztu's early mature period, the blind man of the title is set in the centre of the composition, occupying much of the available space to create a colossal pyramid that blends with and hides the landscape. Heir to the hugely pessimistic post-1898 vision that encompassed Spain after it lost what remained of its empire, Maeztu models an image of rural reality in old Castile fashioned in the kind of late symbolist idiom and with a decorative edge that marked much of his work. A forthright draughtsman and audacious user of colour, Maeztu captures on canvas the kind of colours found in enamelling and ceramics. His work is nourished by a strange sensuality largely appreciable in the tactile, sculpture-like synthesis of the modelling, and in the thick impasto of the paint itself.

TREATMENT: Extensive cracking, lifts and deformations in paint and support corrected. Dense layer of varnish and dirt cleaned. Gaps filled in, back cleaned and frame treated. Conservation mounting.

QUINTÍN DE TORRE (Bilbao, 1877-1966), The Farce, c. 1930. Plaster. 1.75 x 85 x 97 cm. Donated by Pedro de Torre Garnica in 2012
Modelled in plaster for a bronze sculpture of the same name that won the sculptor high praise when it was presented at the 1930 National Fine Arts Exhibition in Madrid. Originally conceived for a garden, the sculpture's present whereabouts are unknown, giving this plaster version greater documentary value. In this work Quintín de Torre comes close to using a symbolist idiom, distancing himself from the almost Baroque imagery found in much of his output and which helped to make his oeuvre popular.

TREATMENT: Work consolidated at several points. Old applications of glue corrected. Layer of dirt cleaned off and lost features reconstructed. A base added for suitable exhibition, handling and shipping purposes.

ANDRÉS NAGEL (San Sebastián, 1947), 82029, 1982
Oil and acrylic on polyester and glass fibre, wood and glass. 174.5 x 135 x 50.4 cm. Acquired in 1982

Nagel's oeuvre can best be described as a sort of figurative expressionism (or expressionist figuration) that combines the everyday with a fantastic, burlesque, absurd or, as in this case, dramatic vision. Pre-existing materials and objects are placed next to occasionally fragmentary but generally human figures modelled in glass fibre and polyester on an easy-to-handle wire mesh support and then decorated in polychrome that calls to mind Pop Art as a benchmark inspiration, alongside film, comic books, posters and advertising.

TREATMENT: Structure and paint consolidated. Surface, consisting in a dense layer of a variety of substances, treated. Colouring restored. Wall fixture and installation features revised.

ROBERTO LAPLAZA (Bilbao, 1842-Madrid, 1930), 12 charcoal and ink drawings on laid paper, dating from 1875 to 1895. Acquired in 2007
Bilbao-born Laplaza spent most of his time as an artist in Madrid, where he worked on a number of major murals. The Museum has a hundred or so wide-ranging charcoal drawings including allegories, portrayals of the seasons of the year, the arts and the theological virtues, which he used as preliminary sketches for his decorations in churches and the palaces of Madrid's aristocracy.

TREATMENT: Support features fixed in place. Actual support machine cleaned and deacidified, deformations eliminated and losses restored. Conservation mounting.

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