Rembrandt stars in major new series on history of restoration

This photograph shows staff at the Rijksmuseum holding their breath as Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642) is unrolled on its return to the Amsterdam museum in June 1945, at the end of the Second World War. The work had been shipped to Kasteel Radboud in Medemblik, north of Amsterdam, for safekeeping. Since its wartime evacuation, the canvas has been subjected to two assaults by members of the public, the most recent in 1990, when a “confused” man sprayed it with sulphuric acid. Fortunately, the substance did not penetrate the varnish.

An article on the restoration history of Rembrandt’s largest painting is due to appear in the Burlington Magazine’s February 2016 edition, as part of a three-year, 18-article publishing project focusing on the history of painting conservation. The series will cover the period from 1720 to 2000 and will examine prominent restorers, specific paintings with complex conservation histories and the history of changing tastes within the field. This month’s edition includes a piece on the controversial restoration policies at London’s National Gallery under the leadership of its first director, Charles Eastlake (1793-1865).

Funded by the Kress Foundation, the series kicked off in October with a piece on Théodore de Mayerne (1573-1654 or 1655), physician to King James I and King Charles I, who recorded artists’ materials, techniques and preferred methods of restoration, making him one of the earliest figures in the discipline’s history.