Allow me to avail myself of the opportunity given by the theme of our symposium – artistic aspects of restoration – to give a brief recapitulation of the principle that have been followed in the Restoration Atelier of the National Gallery in Prague in recent decades and may have more general validity.

Dr Ladislaiv Kesner has dealt with the traditions of this atelier and has characterised the general line as pioneered by the personality of Bohuslav Slánský. His students, myself among them, have tried to continue restoration work in that concept based on an understanding of the work of art as a unique organism, indivisible in its complex structure and not conceivable merely by rational means. And, in fact, the artistic character of restoration work was acknowledged already in 1946 when this field of activity was incorporated into the programme of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. The work of the graduate restorers in the last forty years has proved this solution to have been correct.

I would like to point out certain aspects of the artistic concept of restoration work that we regard as important. We are convinced that the basic demand is respecting the work of art as a whole, in which each part is of importance. For that reason it needs to be known in all its complex structure, and from this must be deduced the synthesis that leads to understanding it, to a recognition of the ideas that the artist embodied in the work. At this point the approach of the restorer is essentially close to the interpretation of the work by an art historian, but starting from the other end, from the technical composition and the material base. A work of art has unique power to speak through its own specific media, which are bound to the material structure. It is consequently my opinion that the technical composition is no less important than the formal elements and the ideas. It is of creative, artistic character to provide the necessary synthesis of knowledge that leads to the most complete comprehension of the work. This process was fittingly formulated by Bohuslav Slánský in the words that are inscribed at the entrance to the present exhibition of restoration: The restorer is in direct physical contact with the individual elements of the material structure of the picture and through this is similarly in contact with those immaterial artistic relations and spiritual significances, where a more profound understanding cannot be reached merely by scientific analysis, but by emotional perception, by artistic sensitivity.

 

The implementation of restoration – in fact, the freeing of that intellectual basis of the work – is an artistic task of its kind, in the solution of which a number of factors have to be taken into account. One of these is the effect of time. As time passes the work of art changes, and these changes cannot be turned back. Nor is that desirable, for certain changes such as cracks, a certain dematerialisation and transparency of the layers of paint are perceived as aesthetic values. As long as they do not affect the material substance of the work these phenomena need to be respected. The complex, heterogeneous character of the material structure of the pictures, in which organic and anorganic elements intertwine, requires that constant attention is paid to these works and they can never be fully stabilised. We cannot agree to such conservation that makes the work of art a museum piece, stabilised but dead.


  author
Mojmír Hamsík,
Chief restorer of the National Gallery in Prague (T.G.)





Forgery of Rembrandt's Portrait of Mother. Priv. col. Macro-photograph of drawn crackles, see next side