An Elephant in the Room or a Whale in the Painting

When people say “Elephant in the Room”, they usually mean something huge and obvious that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. But what do you say when there’s a Whale in the Painting and nobody has a clue that it’s there? This past June was a month of such discoveries in the art world, when unexpected objects were found on 2 very different paintings:

Beached Whale Painting
Image Credit: Fitzwilliam Museum

The first painting with a hidden agenda turned out to be an unassuming 17th century Dutch painting, depicting a serene beach scene. However, right in the middle of it, discretely painted over was… an enormous beached whale, which was covered up sometime in the 18th or 19th century. Whether the whale offended somebody’s sensibilities or simply didn’t fit one’s decor is a mystery. There’s no record of it being altered and the discovery was purely accidental, made by Shan Kuang, a conservation student at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum during cleaning and restoration effort.

Picasso The Blue Room Mystery
Image Credit: The Phillipps Collection

The second discovery was much more public, because it was hiding just under the surface of one of the Picasso’s first masterpieces – “The Blue Room” which has been part of The Phillips Collection for almost 90 years.  Young struggling painter, has been known to “recycle” his canvas. It has been suspected since 1950s that there might be something underneath the odd brushstrokes of the famous painting. But only during the last 5 years, with the help of recent advancements in imaging technology, the underlying image of a bearded man in a bow tie was finally reveled in relative clarity. Experts are still working trying to recreate the original colors Picasso used. Who is the man in the picture remains a mystery, for now… Let the detective work continue!

Creating a Custom Product for Paintings Restoration

Mini Suction TableDon’t you just love going “behind the scenes”, sneaking a peek at the artists’ sketches and finding out about the designer’s source of inspiration?
We sure do, and here’s your chance to learn about the story behind the product, namely – our New Painting Suction Table:

Mini Suction Table SketchIn March 2013, the Washington Conservation Guild held their annual “Three Ring Circus”, which included three concurrent sessions that preceded a reception and exhibitors’ showcase. University Products Vice President and General Manager, John Dunphy attended the WCG and spoke with conservator Nancy Pollak about a specific product of interest to her.  As a conservator of paintings and painted textiles, Pollak was seeking a suction table that would allow treatment of paintings that are still mounted on stretcher bars. The device would be easy to slide between the canvas and the stretcher even in small corner areas.

Mini Suction Table in use behind the stretcherAlthough University Products did not offer the product at the time, John recognized that the creation of this new table was attainable.  Using the rough sketches provided by Ms. Pollak, he began to conceive a design that would be both practical and affordable. After engaging in a discussion with the company’s current suction table manufacturer, a painting suction table prototype was manufactured exclusively for Ms. Pollak.  After receiving and testing the prototype, Ms. Pollak stated: “I am so impressed with this, and with the way you are working with me to bring this idea to fruition. The current design has good suction and and the way the suction port comes from the bottom makes it easy to hold and maneuver into place without disturbing the canvas. The wedge can slip between the stretcher and canvas, and I was even able to use in on a flat-faced stretcher where there was very little space. It works really well in corners.”

The painting suction table is just one example of the many quality museum and preservation tools and products that Mini Suction Table in use on a stretched paintingUniversity Products continues to offer and develop for its customers. The scope and breadth of the products goes far beyond those materials and goods found in the industry. The people at University Products, like John, have the knowledge, vision, and experience to bring customer’s ideas and needs from an intangible concept to a useful product that can be used to complete work more efficiently and effectively.