A water-damaged Georgia O’Keeffe painting not seen in public in more than 2 years is back on display in a New Mexico museum after a massive effort to restore it.
Three conservationists spent more than 1,250 hours on the project to repair not only water damage, but past conservation efforts that failed.
Conservation head Dale Kronkright told the Albuquerque Journal it was the most massive project he had ever worked on.
“The damage is consistent with it being stacked against another painting,” Kronkright said. “It’s clear at some point that it was sanded. It was almost as if the paint had been pulled off.”
The painting, “Spring,” was created by O’Keeffe in 1948 and was the largest of her career at that point, made on a canvas measuring 7 feet by 4 feet.
“This curious and ambitious work was a turning point for O’Keeffe, both professionally and personally,” according to curators at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where the work is on display.
Museum officials note that “Spring” combines a number of her iconic New Mexican subjects: primrose, antlers, the flat-topped mountain Cerro, and more.
Experts believe the painting was damaged while in O’Keeffe’s New Mexico home, most likely by a tarantula tunneling through the mud roof and causing water to drip on the canvas and create cracking.
“There were hundreds of cracks in the lower right,” Kronkright said. “Many white pigments in oil start to become translucent over time.”
After more than 70 years, the dark paints had grown darker and the whites more transparent, Kronkright said. He noted six areas on the top half of the work had lost its original paint.
“It was almost as if the paint had been pulled off,” he said. “They were having a hard time matching the colors. The entire upper third of the painting was overpainted.”
It cost approximately $145,000 to restore the piece, a cost partially offset thanks to a $75,000 grant from Bank of America.
“Spring” is one of just a handful of paintings created by O’Keeffe during a 3-year span when she was in New York settling the estate of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who died in 1946.
“The primrose is associated with mourning; the bones are connected to death,” Ariel Plotek, a curator at the museum, told Newsweek. “It’s interpreted as kind of a memorial to Alfred Stieglitz.”
The painting will be on display at the Santa Fe museum until October 10. It will then be loaned to the San Diego Museum of Art in 2023.
Tickets to the museum are $18 if purchased in advance, or $20 at the door. Due to the ongoing pandemic, advance reservations are required at this time.
Restrictions on the number of people allowed in the museum and other measures during the pandemic are in effect.
The museum is open from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
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