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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: New to Women Breaking Boundaries

by Conservation

2/20/2020

conservation , photography conservation , Camera Work Magazine , Photogravure , Photomechanical reproduction , Gertrude Käsebier

The objects in the Women Breaking Boundaries exhibit in the galleries across from the café are examples of wide-ranging media, including light-sensitive objects.  Some are more prone to fading or other types of light-induced degradation than others, and the Julia Margaret Cameron albumen print, Days at Freshwater, is among the most light-sensitive.  The length of the exhibit prohibited its display for the entire time, so before the exhibit was installed, the curator selected another piece from the collection to put in its place after four months on the wall.  Last week the Cameron was moved back to storage to help keep this 150 year old image as vibrant for future visitors as it is today.  Portrait (Miss N.) by Gertrude Käsebier was installed in the gallery and will be on view until the close of the exhibit.

The Käsebier print is a photogravure on Japanese paper that was tipped, or specially attached, into the first issue of the art photography journal Camera Work: A Pictorial Guide published in 1903.  The left edge of the Japanese paper was pasted to the page along the gutter.  On the verso of the page was another of Käsebier’s prints.  To be able to show Miss N., our paper conservator removed the photogravure from the journal.  The adhesive was softened by locally humidifying the paper only along the line of paste.  A scalpel was used to carefully lift the Japanese paper from the page below.  The photogravure is a photomechanical reproduction from the original circa 1900 negative.  It is a variation of an etching, printed in ink, and it is a technique that was used to print large editions of photographs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Even if you have seen Women Breaking Boundaries, it is worth another visit to see this beautiful print and to read about the talented artist who created it.  You will even find out who Miss N. is.

Before treatment, raking light, before removal from the journal:

 

After treatment, normal light, after removal from the journal:

Gertrude Käsebier (American, b.1852, d.1934), Portrait (Miss N.), 1903, photogravure, Gift of Herbert Greer French, 1981.280.4