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More Than Meets the Eye: Unveiling Matisse’s "Bathers by a River"

by Inge Fiedler, Conservation Microscopist, The Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, November 12, 2010

7:30 PM: Presentation
For the past five years, the Art Institute of Chicago’s curatorial and conservation staff has researched French artist Henri Matisse’s monumental painting Bathers By a River (AIC #1953.158, Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection). Considered by the artist to be among his five most pivotal works, Matisse worked on the painting periodically from 1909 through 1917, dramatically revising the composition each time. In conjunction with the use of historic photographs that documented some of the different stages in the creation of this work, the painting was also examined using X-radiography, infrared reflectography, raking light and other scientific imaging techniques. Minute paint samples were taken from specific areas of the painting related to the compositional changes made by Matisse and prepared as cross-sections that were analyzed by SEM/EDX. In some locations of the painting, as many as twelve layers were observed, showing the complexity of the painting’s evolution. Analysis of the layers helped to determine the color scheme of the different states and provided us with specific identification of the pigments used by Matisse. The cross sectional results also paved the way for digitally reconstructing the earlier states of the painting.

Bio Sketch
Inge Fiedler is a Conservation Microscopist in the Conservation Department at the Art Institute of Chicago; she has held this position since 1979. She began her apprenticeship training in painting conservation and microanalytical techniques as applied to conservation in the Conservation Department at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1973. Her training was supplemented with specialized courses in optical microscopy, chemical microscopy, and instrumental analysis. She received her MFA degree in studio art, with a concentration in photography in 1976, and a BFA degree in studio art in 1972 both from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has concentrated primarily on research of painting materials, with a particular interest in those used during the 19th century, although her research covers a wide variety of media and time periods reflecting the extensive holdings of the Art Institute’s collection.

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