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Friday, May 30 • 9:00am - 9:30am
(Paintings Session) A Hangover, Part III: Thomas Coutures's Supper After the Masked Ball

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Depicting the aftermath of a carnivalesque episode in the infamous and glamorous Maison d’Or, Paris, Thomas Couture’s Supper After the Masked Ball could be described as itself suffering from poor judgements, a tendency to excess, and weakness for immediate gratification. A painting now important to art history and notorious in its day, it nonetheless spent the last 90 years in storage, largely ignored except for episodes of invasive treatments – two linings and at least two campaigns of cleaning and restoration. The painting is once again under treatment, now at the National Gallery of Canada.

This is not an uncommon story for objects in many collections today. As art market prices rise beyond levels most museums and collectors can manage, objects with problematic histories often become an area of focus. We are frequently faced with the legacy of decisions and common practices within conservation made at a time of development, where historic, craft practices were confronted by practitioners at the limits of their understanding, employing new procedures.

In Supper After the Masked Ball, beyond at least two partial and selective cleaning procedures, the treatment sought to undo critical changes wrought by glue-paste and wax-resin linings, leaving a large painting (180 x 228cm) de-lined and not re-lined. The conservation involved a series of structural and restoration treatments to both the painting and its stretcher. Partly, this treatment occurred because the verso of the canvas was used by Couture, as was his habit, to test tint combinations and paint consistencies for other paintings, possibly in a teaching context within his atelier – information typically now lost. This treatment also occurred in part because it is common practice today – attempting to reverse changes made by our forefathers – both in the museum sector and in the realm of private practice, where recovery of ‘authentic’ objects can bring broad benefit and is seen as profitable and desirable. In doing so, we likely bring further issues, both beneficial and potentially problematic, to the fore. This presentation elucidates a methodology for confronting key structural issues clumsily sidestepped by traditional lining practices, using Couture’s Supper After the Masked Ball as a case-study.

In addition to the treatment of the painting, the original Beaux-Arts frame for the painting was also restored, having spent nearly a century off the painting, stored in its shipping crate. The restored painting and its frame will be the subject of a focus exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery, with web-based content focusing on the essential role of conservation, and additionally on the importance of professional development of emerging conservators through sponsored fellowship initiatives. The painting is expected to make a full recovery from its hangover.


Fiona Beckett

Clowes Paintings Conservator (IMA), Indianapolis Museum of Art
FIONA BECKETT has a Master’s degree in Conservation with a specialization in paintings from Queen’s University and an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Ottawa. She has previous experience and internships at the Royal Ontario Museum, Atelier Anita Henry, the... Read More →

Friday May 30, 2014 9:00am - 9:30am PDT
Grand Ballroom B