The conservation activities at the Kunstmuseen Krefeld aim to preserve its rich collection for future generations. To this end, the museum engages in a continual process of active and preventative conservation measures. Every day our conservators address the challenges posed by the multitude of mixed materials and artistic techniques in a collection spanning the late Middle Ages to the present and which includes design objects dating back centuries. Our conservators are responsible for extensively documenting the condition of the items and conducting art technological tests. They monitor the conservation conditions in the exhibitions, storerooms and during transport. Implementing practical conservation and restoration measures is a central task of their occupational profile.
The conservation work at the Kunstmuseen Krefeld is carried out in consultation with an international network of conservators. The research on the material composition and production process of the artworks and the interdisciplinary collaboration with experts and researchers ensures a steady influx of art technological and conservational expertise, which is communicated to the visiting public through subject-related tours, lectures and publications.
For the Day of Conservation-Restoration 2020 a new podcast has been launched. The first episode is about a painting by Gaston La Touche from the collection of the Kunstmuseen Krefeld: Link to the podcast, German only
Among the most spectacular conceptual artworks by the French painter Yves Klein (1928–1962) were the white monochrome rooms which he entitled Le Vide (The Void). Artistically reducing all sensory details to the white monochromaticity of an empty room, Yves Klein enabled visitors to experience the immaterial aura of invisible painting.
The Krefeld version of Le Vide is still preserved today. The room on the first floor of the Museum Haus Lange was created in 1961 as part of the first – and last – solo exhibition designed by the artist himself. The art technological investigation of this room of emptiness, carried out by the museum’s conservators, found that Le Vide is an original, site-specific mural which is largely comparable to Yves Klein’s other monochromatic paintings in terms of surface structure, choice of material and application technique. The fundamental challenge at the start of the conservation project was to determine how to restore the severely soiled floor so that it would resemble the practically unmarked wall surfaces which were still in very good condition. The dirty floor and various cracks in the walls noticeably detracted from the effect of the room; every flaw on the white monochrome surface drew excessive visual attention to itself and sustainably diminished the immaterial atmosphere of the room. An art technological analysis established that Le Vide could not be considered as a purely conceptual, and thus reproducible work. Consequently, the conservators decided against merely refreshing the paint on all surfaces of the room. Rather the cracks in the plaster were sealed, the floor was carefully cleaned and retouched where necessary. In this way it was possible to remove or considerably reduce the marks adversely affecting the monochromatic quality while largely preserving the original substance. Thanks to these conservation measures, it was possible to basically recreate the impact of the monochrome white room with its optically disorienting effect that allows the visitor to experience a feeling of utter emptiness. The steps used for restoring this white void proved satisfactory despite the effects of natural aging and wear and tear. To preserve the room’s condition, conservators developed a preventative concept which regulates visitor access and especially serves to avoid future marking. Preserving this room is an ongoing process which requires regular inspections and maintenance.
The Kunstmuseen Krefeld own a significant collection of drawings, aquarelles, oil studies and four oil paintings on canvas by the painter Adolf Höninghaus (1810, Krefeld – 1882, Krefeld). Höninghaus studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer. His work is situated in the context of the early Düsseldorf School of Painting. The oil studies, procured from the artists’ estate, are mostly plein-air studies he painted on various trips and during his grand tour of Italy. Back at his studio, several of these studies served as models for the final versions of his canvas paintings. In preparation of our retrospective on works by Adolf Höninghaus in 2017, curators had the opportunity to carry out art technological analyses as part of larger scale conservation measures. These analyses were conducted in part with technical support provided by the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences at the TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences.
Among the small-format oil studies which Höninghaus completed during his extended visit in Italy from 1844 to 1848, researchers were able to identify two direct models for his painting Blick auf Rom (View of Rome) which he produced many years later in 1871. Furthermore, researchers found evidence that the artist did not simply use the studies as a general template, but integrated specific details into his final composition. The infrared reflectography of the painting revealed that the underlying sketch and the subsequent artistic execution of the buildings at the centre of the painting almost exactly corresponded to the small preliminary studies. The sketch in this area was apparently done with a fine-pointed pen which ensured precise lining. Working from there, Höninghaus composed the other sections freely and combined them with the integrated images. In Blick auf Rom the foreground contains monumental ruins overgrown with rich vegetation. In contrast to the precise integration of the models at the centre, these freely composed sections were more casually sketched with a brush or broad-tipped drawing pen. Several variances and changes resulting from the technical aspects of the painting process are also evident in these freely composed sections. In the underlying sketch, for example, researchers discovered several figures sitting on a log. This detail was not included in the later version of the canvas painting. The analysis of the paint layers in some sketches and paintings revealed that Höninghaus’s colour palette was practically identical to that used in both his oil studies and his painting from 1871. Comparing sections of his studies completed during his trip to Italy and his painting Blick auf Rom produced some 25 years later, researchers determined that the pigment composition of the paint mixtures was almost exactly identical. One can assume, therefore, that the painter must have noted the proportions of the paint mixture in order to mix them in the same fashion in his studio years later. The impressive artistic precision demonstrated in the detailed transposition of the preliminary studies to the painting even corresponds to the exact reproduction of the paint mixtures in his studio.