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Restoring artworks can have a major effect on how we experience these works. The ethics on restoration evolved over the past century. Nowadays restorers make sure that every intervention is reversible. For example, they apply a thin varnish before adding any retouchings. As a result restorations can be removed if new knowledge about the artwork is obtained or when restoration techniques are improved.
Edward James (1907-1984) was born on West Dean estate in Sussex, England. He inherited millions from his father, William Dodge James, who made his fortune in the wood industry and the American railways. James himself wanted to be a writer ever since he was a young boy. His grave stone states: ‘poet’. Nowadays James is mostly known for his large collection of surrealist paintings. In the 1930s he became fascinated with artists like Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. He supported them by purchasing their artworks. James considered himself a ‘protector of the arts’ rather then a collector. Later James set up a trust, the Edward James Foundation, in which he placed West Dean estate and his art collection. He transformed the estate into West Dean College, a school for traditional crafts. To maintain this school and the estate, the Edward James Foundation would eventually sell all the surrealist paintings, including ‘Landscape with a Girl Skipping Rope’.
History of the painting
Edward James commissioned Dalí to paint this triptych in 1936 for his house in London. The centre piece was damaged during the Second World War during a bombing raid and was radically restored in the 1960s by an unknown restorer. The wings ended up in the Tate Gallery in London in 1958 and were restored by Holder & Sons in the summer of 1972. Afterwards the triptych was reunited in West Dean, the estate owned by Edward James. In October 1972 the painting was lent by the Edward James Foundation to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. It was finally bought by the museum in 1977, together with a group of other artworks by Dalí and Magritte.
Before deciding that a work of art should be restored, research is carried out to determine the condition of the work. The restorer does this by carefully examining the object with the naked eye. In addition research techniques like X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet radiation can tell us more about the condition of the varnish and paint layers. In most cases in ultraviolet radiation the later overpaint is dark, whereas the old varnish layers will light up. In this way old restorations can be recognised. Another research method is the analysis of small paint samples, as in cross sections of the subsequent paint layers. The results can help the restorer to evaluate the condition of the work and to develop the most appropriate treatment.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has restored one of the highlights of the collection, the monumental triptych Landscape with a Girl Skipping Rope (1936) by surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. The aim was to unify the wings and the centre piece. Dirt, discoloured varnish, retouchings and overpaint were removed where possible. After reconstructing damaged parts, the impressive landscape was in harmony again. The restoration could be viewed from 11 June until mid August 2010 in the Serrahall in the museum.
Camera and editing: Marieke van der Lippe