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Learn about Turner Painting Restoration at August 2 Program

For Immediate Release

July 24, 2003

The recent dramatic restoration of the masterpiece Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water is the focus of a public program on Saturday, August 2, at 2 p.m., at the Clark Art Institute. Conservator David Bull, who spent eight months working on the painting by British artist J.M.W. Turner, will discuss the conservation process with the Clark's senior curator Richard Rand. The painting, a highlight of the Clark's permanent collection, is featured in the current exhibition Turner: The Late Seascapes. The lecture is free with gallery admission.

Painted by Turner in 1840, Rockets and Blue Lights was purchased by Institute founders Sterling and Francine Clark in 1932. Turner is known for his experimental technique and use of unorthodox materials; hence many of his paintings are in delicate condition and susceptible to damage. Rockets and Blue Lights may also have been damaged in 1857 when the wagon carrying it to an exhibition was struck by a train. It has long been recognized that Rockets and Blue Lights was retouched at some unknown date, perhaps to mask injury to Turner's original paint layers. Several campaigns of restoration occurred before the Clarks acquired the painting. These interventions radically altered the painting's appearance and undermined its structural integrity.

In 2001, in preparation for the Turner exhibition, the Clark embarked on a careful analysis of the painting, bringing together experts from around the world as well as the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. Based on this analysis, the Clark decided to restore the painting once and for all, removing the false overpainting and layers of discolored varnish. Bull, who has many years of experience restoring Turner paintings, worked on Rockets and Blue Lights in his New York studio. The conservation revealed large areas of Turner's original brushwork, previously hidden, and restored the painting's vibrant colors.

The Clark will offer a lecture related to the Turner show every Saturday in August at 2 p.m. For more information, call 413-458-2303, or visit www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/turner/.

J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) was one of Britain's greatest artists. Turner: The Late Seascapes explores the defining years of his career when, at the height of his artistic powers, he painted the sea as a stage for human drama and action. The exhibition features 35 oil paintings and watercolors, including several never before seen in the United States, that represent the culmination of Turner's lifelong fascination with the sea. James Hamilton, an eminent Turner specialist from the University of Birmingham, England, organized the exhibition for the Clark. The Clark is the only North American venue for the show.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  The galleries are open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Gallery admission is $10 (members, students, and 18 and under free).

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