22 February 2016

New exhibit showcases recently conserved art

CTV Atlantic

The New Brunswick Museum in Saint John has recently opened an exhibit that was decades in the making.

Over the years, the museum has received dozens of historic paintings from people throughout the province and the country. However, before those works of art could be displayed they often need to undergo conservation treatment.

The paintings date as far back as the 1850s and some have not been displayed in decades. However, thanks to an ongoing fine art conservation project, those paintings make up a new exhibit called Recently Conserved Works.

“It's sort of a survey of paintings that've required conservation treatment,” says Peter Larocque, curator at the New Brunswick Museum.

The New Brunswick Museum, in conjunction with the Provincial Fine Art Conservation Laboratory, has been working on this project for the past 30 years.

“Some of the works have never been displayed previously because their condition was such that they weren't really viewable,” says Larocque.

“Paintings are really complex objects because they combine paint, they combine textile, like cloth, canvas, then there are layers of glaze. They're really affected by light, some of the colours for example in the paintings can completely fade out over time.”

Some of the works on display took days, weeks, even months to conserve – a process that was completed at the Provincial Fine Art Conservation Laboratory at the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville, N.B.

Larocque says each painting is different and therefore needs specialized work.

“To know exactly what chemicals to use to remove a varnish, what colours to use, what materials to use if you have to paint a section or fill, if a canvas has been torn, what do you do for that,” says Larocque.

In addition to the historic paintings, the frames, many of which are original, also require restoration.

“The treatment of the painting is different than the treatment of the frames and some of the conservation treatment for the frames is actually done at the New Brunswick Museum Collections Centre in our conservation lab,” says Larocque.

The New Brunswick Museum has approximately 2,000 paintings in its collection, but only a small amount of those will ever be displayed.

Recently Conserved Works exhibit is open until March 31.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ashley Blackford