MIRACULOUS HEALINGS: MIȘU POPP (1827 – 1892)

The Bucharest Municipality Museum continues its “Miraculous Healings” series with an exhibition dedicated to painter Mișu Popp. The opening will take place on Thursday, March 3rd, 12:00, at the Suțu Palace. The organizers would like to bring to the public’s attention the restauration process performed by BMM’s specialists on an exceptional painting belongig to this artist. The portrait of a woman signed by Mișu Popp in 1857 and presented in the “Miraculous Healings” exhibition, is part of Bucharest Municipality Pinacotheque patrimony. “The painting features compositional elements found in the portraits of the first half of the 19th century that had a double purpose, as social testimonies and image preservations for the future: from the lavish silk dress, the jewelry or wedding bouquet, to the three-armed candlestick or the mirror.” (Simona Predescu, painting restauration expert, Restoration-Conservation Department).

The “Miraculous Healings” series was initiated by Dr. Adrian Majuru and aims to reveal the public certain secrets of the restauration process. The exhibition dedicated to Mișu Popp is organized by Simona Predescu (expert in painting restauration) and Ioan D. Popa (Head of the Restauration – Conservation Department) and was organized with the support of Dr. Marian Constantin (Head of the Art Department) and Liana Ivan-Ghilia (museologist), while the physicochemical investigations were provided by Ingrid Poll (chemist).

The exhibition will remain open between March 3rd and May 22nd 2016.

“The portrait painted by Mișu Popp and exhibited in the Miraculous Healings, is a painting belonging to the patrimony of the Bucharest Municipality Pinacotheque. Apparently it features compositional elements found in the portraits of the first half of the 19th century that had a double purpose as social testimonies and image preservations for the future. The compositional props mark the painter’s intention to give all necessary data needed to state the moment and the purpose of the painting: the lavish silk dress, the jewelry or wedding bouquet, the three-armed candlestick and the mirror.

Some of these objects (the three-armed candlestick, the mirror) are used by the painter as props in other compositional paintings as well, a fact that leads us to believe that they belonged to Mișu Popp and the people in the pictures actually posed in his studio.

Through its compositional and chromatic balance, the work can be considered a masterpiece of the painter and, at the same time, a masterpiece of Romanian painting of the second half of the 19th century.

Mișu Popp is considered to be a representative of Romanian academic painting and together with Constantin Lecca and Carol Pop of Szathmary forms a group of Transylvanian painters that left a strong mark on 19th century Romanian art. He stands out both through his canvas paintings as well as his murals paintings in churches, individually or together with his friend Constantin Lecca.

In his canvas paintings he has depicted historical and cultural figures, city dwellers, peasants, but has also approached still natures, mythological compositions, historical compositions, landscapes, self-portraits.

If we come to understand that the Biedermeier epoch does not refer to a period of time but to a different spirit and a set of trends that grew out of the fundamentals of time in Central Europe during the first half of the 19th century, Mișu Popp has then been influenced in his artistic work by the Biedermeier style which he understood and decanted in his own way.

Through his canvas paintings and his religious murals, he contributed to a new direction in Romanian art in the second part of the 19th century, a direction that was gradually adopted by more artists of the time.

Mișu Popp, was born in Brașov on the 19th of March 1827 and died in the same place on the 6th of March 1892.

He grew up in a family whose members were all painters. His father, Ioan Popp Moldovan, is remembered in the history of sacred mural art as a continuer of the Nicula School of painters, which had combined national elements with influences of Western art, borrowed from the Austro-Hungarians through catholicism, and elements of Eastern iconography tradition.

After he studied at the Szecklers’ schools, with the teacher at St. Nicholas church from Șchei, at the Greek school in Brașov, and after he graduated from the Military School for Border Guards in Târgu Secuiesc, he expressed his wish to become a painter and as a result, in 1845 his father sent him to Vienna to study at the Imperial Academy of Arts. He earnestly studied painting in the studio and under the guidance of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, a reputed portarit painter nicknamed the “Tutor of the forty-eighters generation”.

Giving up on his study travels through Italy and Netherlands, that he had palnned with his colleagues, he returned to Brașov on the eve of the 1848 Revolution. He joined the Romanian forces and became a leader of the national revolution in Transylvania. After the defeat he seeked refuge in Ploiești but was arrested on charges of revolutionary propaganda and sent to Bucharest. In 1850 he set up a studio together with Constanting Lecca and painted various commissions. The studio’s success was due to religious commissions and portraits, as other themes were restricted under the government’s control that seeked to inhibit any revolutionary enthusiasm.

In 1862 he returned to Brașov and revived his father’s studio. It is here that he completed his series of portraits from Brasov.

Conservation state before restoration:

The painting was handed to the restoration department of the Bucharet Municipality Museum with serious conservation problems that were deforming the image as it was supposed to be perceived by the viewer and also maintained a strong stress on the physical structure of the painting.

The work was painted in oils on industry-made canvas. The signature and dating are in the bottom-left corner written with black oil – „M Popp 1857.”

The canvas, primed with a semi-absorbant slightly thick gesso, has a wide texture with a rather thick structure. On the back of the canvas the white gesso can be seen protruding through the fabric.

The canvas’s wide texture, the moderately-oily priming and a painting technique applied almost scholastically, with a solid knowledge of the beginning and ending of the of the painting process, contributed to the preservation of the painting in its deep layers despite the trauma and mechanical stress it was subjected to throughout time.

The small aging cracks, mostly crowded on white based colors, are distributed especially in the area that did not touch the chassis’ crosspieces. The cracks in the painting were caused by the imprinting of the inside edges of the chassis and from the folding of the canvas towards its corners, when the chassis was set in place.

With regards to the colors’ ingredients used by the painter, according to the report issued after ED-XRF spectrometric analysis, the pigments are lead white, Prussian blue mixed with lead white in lighter areas, earth red and Naples yellow for skin tones, verdigris, Prussian blue and Naples yellow for green, cinnabar mixed with ivory black and iron oxide for blacks and browns.

There have been some previous attempts to repair the cracks and tears in the canvas but they affected it through burns of the paint layer and the deformation of the canvas support. The interventions consisted in applying strips of waxed fabric on the back of the painting in order to fix the cracks, but this strips imprinted on the canvas and were visible on the surface, in time also caused the canvas to shrink unequally around the strips. The canvas presented distortions on the inside edge of the chassis as well, due to poor stretching on the chassis, mainly caused by strong oxidation of the canvas around the nails, and slipping or detaching in some parts.

On the areas with tears that covered most of the original paint, a thick and hard putty was applied that cracked in time and was covered in turn with successive layers of repaint that obstructed the original even more. The overpainting covered a lot of the architectural element and almost all of the artist’s signature.

The putty and repaints happened quite late after the painting was done, the color being adapted to the already changed shade of the varnish and covered with sticking dirt. After these interventions the work was varnished.

New scratches and blows affected the paint layer after the above mentioned repairs were done, and they led to damage of pigment and in some parts to total loss of the paint layer. The holes in the paint were repainted by going far over the edges as well.

UV light analysis revealed that the painting presented thick and consistent layers of highly degraded oily-resinous varnish, oxidized, turned yellow and covered with dust and light dirt, with massive over-paintings of a different shade.

The oxidized canvas support, mounted on an unstable, frail and faulty chassis with no dip, was weakened especially around its short edges with tears and lacks in some places. There were nine strips of waxed fabric present and a few inscriptions in 1492 oil color appeared in the bottom-right corner, and in the upper-left corner, in flaumaster 1492 and T 10/2.

Treatment:

The dust, light dirt and old varnished were cleaned. The over-paintings were removed as well by alternating the cleaning and neutralization of the treated areas. The different color putty was afterward removed mechanically. The cleaning process was finished by removing traces of over-paintings and varnishes left after the putty was cleared away. The work was varnished with a light dammar varnish.

The strips on the back and the traces of glue were removed from the original canvas. The support was straightened in the areas where it showed deformations caused by humidifying/dehumidifying and pressure. The faulty chassis was removed together with built-up dirt in the space between the canvas and the chassis. The canvas was prepared and margins were applied. The tears were seamed and a treated and stabilized fabric of similar structure was inserted where support-canvas was missing. For endurance, an elastic network was applied by lamination on the spots where tears were seamed.

The painting was stretched onto a newly made chassis, with dip, crosses and wedges. The gaps were filled, colors were integrated chromatically and the final varnish was applied. The painting was mounted onto a newly-made frame and protected on its back with neuter cardboard for an efficient conservation.

Simona Predescu, Painting Restauration expert, Restauration-Conservation Department.

 

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