Conservation of Sculpture & Decorative Arts

– Conservation is an overarching term which refers to all of
the activities that we do, including the preventive work, the analysis, the authentication, the study of conditions of display, and the control of those conditions, and it also includes restoration. Restoration is really
the piece of conservation that involves actual physical
changes to an object. One of the most interesting
restoration projects that we have undertaken here at the Getty in the past few years
has been the restoration of the Neoclassical French
“Lit à la Polonaise.” I first saw this bed in
1981, and I had gone to Paris to find a gilding conservation workshop in which I could learn their techniques. In the workshop of Monsieur Goujon, I stumbled across this
bed, which was actually sent there at the time for restoration, and I was immediately enraptured by the quality
and the refinement of it. and it wasn’t until 1994 that we acquired it here at the Getty. Beds of this type were
made for the high nobility, people of extravagant wealth, and with a sumptuous taste
for luxurious living. And so we knew that we had to restore it to a very high level. In the space of two and a half years, we did extensive treatments on it involving over 10 different specialists who restored the carving of the bed, the gilding, the painting, replaced some of the hardware on it, we had silk lampas woven, we had tassels and trimmings made, and then we finally had it upholstered. In the 18th century,
the upholstery of a bed like this was of paramount importance. Fabrics had an extremely prestigious place in the hierarchy of interior architecture. People invested huge sums
of money in their textiles. We knew about the original
upholstery of the bed, and we had an estimate done for the reweaving of that fabric. In the end, the cost far
exceeded what we thought we could justify spending on the project, and so we decided to
de-emphasize the upholstery, and choose an appropriate lampas, but one that was really not approaching a recreation of what had
originally been on the bed. We had engaged Prelle in Lyons to reweave the lampas,
and we engaged a firm called La Passementerie
Nouvelle to recreate the fringes and tassels
and trimmings of the bed. The making of passementerie
is really fascinating. It is basically the term applied to all of the garnishings on an upholstery, such as fringe, tassels, trimmings, rosettes, buttons. They are all basically made by wrapping very fine silk thread around core foundations, which in the eighteenth
century were made of catgut. The silk threads around
the foundation are then wrapped around each other,
twisted in various ways. It’s a fascinating process, and one that is done
almost entirely by hand. The restoration of the carving and gilding was a process of moving
the bed back and forth between the carver’s and
the gilder’s workshops. Each piece went to the carver’s studio, where he glued any loose pieces of wood, replaced most, but not
all, of the lost details from the carving, and he waited
until the end of the project to replace the central trophy and one of the side trophies. We were tremendously aided in
this process by the discovery of early 20th-century
photographs of the bed. I don’t know that we would have endeavored to replace the lost trophy
on the top of the bed had we not had this photograph, because we really didn’t know what it was, so that was really the biggest challenge of the entire project. When I show this bed to
people who are not familiar with French 18th-century decorative arts, it really is like a textbook
in the whole subject. It certainly says a great
deal about the importance of the decorative arts in
their standing in society. These, after all, were status symbols. These weren’t just about
having a good night’s sleep.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,