• McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, ON
    September 5 – December 19, 2015
    Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
    April 30 – September 18, 2016
    Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, ON
    October 7 – November 27, 2016
    Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, ON
    January 7 – April 9, 2017

  • The Unvarnished Truth: exploring the material history of paintings

    Foreword

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Essays

Introduction

The Unvarnished Truth: Exploring the Material History of Paintings was conceived by Brandi Lee MacDonald at McMaster University in 2010 as a series of conversations about the potential for nondestructive techniques to analyze works of art, and quickly evolved to become the multidisciplinary, collaborative study presented here.

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The Art of Connoisseurship

“Hello. It’s me.” You hear the voice on the telephone, and with just four syllables you recognize the caller immediately. If asked to explain how or why, you might mention qualities such as pitch, cadence, or accent, but ultimately, the distinctively personal character of the voice may be hard to define. That flash of recognition happens before you have even realized it, a product of intimate familiarity with the speaker.

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Conservation Science and Paintings

Scientists have a long history of working with cultural objects.[i] For example, in the late eighteenth century, Claude-Louis Berthollet and André Thouin accompanied the Napoleonic army to the Italian peninsula, where, in addition to other duties, they evaluated the condition of artworks that had been confiscated.[ii]

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Catalogue Entries

Workshop of Adriaen Brouwer (Flemish 1605/6-1638)

Workshop of Adriaen Brouwer (Flemish 1605/6-1638) The Drinker / The Bitter Draught, c. 1635-1638 oil on oak panel on oak cradle 34.3 x 27.1 cm Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

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Unknown, in the manner of Edwaert Collier (Dutch, Breda, c. 1640–after 1707, London or Leiden)

Unknown, in the manner of Edwaert Collier (Dutch, Breda ca. 1640–after 1707 London or Leiden) Untitled Trompe L'Oeil, n.d. oil on canvas 54 x 37.8 cm Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

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Circle of Jan Gossart (called Mabuse), (Netherlandish, about 1478 – 1532)

Circle of Jan Gossart (called Mabuse), (Netherlandish, about 1478 – 1532) Unknown, portrait of a man, c. 1520 oil on oak panel 40.6 x 30 cm Levy Bequest Purchase, 1994

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Glossary

Thread Counts

When paintings on canvas are documented with high-resolution X-radiography film, it is possible to reveal the underlying canvas in detail, making individual threads visible. X-radiographs do not detect the actual canvas because it is transparent to X-rays. They do, however, detect the ground layer (used to provide a smoother surface on which to paint), which sinks into the canvas weave pattern. Due to the absorption characteristics of this ground material, the X-radiograph can produce a clear image of the canvas.

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Infrared reflectography and underdrawings

The infrared (IR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum is located beside the visible colour red, at wavelengths just longer than visible light. IR can penetrate through paint, with the depth of penetration depending on paint thickness, paint composition, and the wavelength of IR light applied. Longer wavelength IR light can penetrate through paint layers, but will be absorbed by blacks, a quality that enables researchers to use IR to look below the paint layers.

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Non-invasive vs. micro-destructive methods of analysis

An important distinction in the technical analysis of artworks is that between invasive and noninvasive methods. When possible, technical analyses are restricted to noninvasive methods that do not require removing any material from the object. Examples of noninvasive techniques include UV fluorescence, infrared reflectography, and reflectance transformation imaging.

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The Unvarnished Truth is organized and circulated by the McMaster Museum of Art with the generous support of the McMaster University Office of Research
and the Museums Assistance Program, Canadian Heritage.