behind the scenes , conservation , watercolor , Eden Park , Valentine Bonhajo
While listening to forecasts of a winter storm last week, the paper conservator was enjoying this view of Eden Park’s Mirror Lake in the height of summer. This watercolor and gouache painting by Valentine Bonhajo is undated, but it was painted after 1904 when the Spring House Gazebo, shown on the far side of the lake, was built. Bonhajo was born in Germany and moved to Cincinnati as a young man. The painting is part of a recent gift of a group of Cincinnati views by Bonhajo that are more landscape than cityscape. The artist used pencil to sketch the larger elements of the composition, visible in the lower right at the curve of the lake. He used thin watercolor washes in the sky and lake and less dilute paint in the surrounding areas. Bonhajo took advantage of the thick, paste-like gouache in the foliage of the trees (see detail), building up impasto that could be mistaken for oil paint. The paper conservator unframed the painting to find that it had been taped to its window mat.
The well-intentioned framer had used good-quality mat boards to protect the painting from stains like the yellow-brown mat burn seen in the sky, caused by an earlier acidic mat. The tape, however, was not of good quality and had to be removed to prevent future damage to the painting from degradation of the pressure sensitive adhesive. Although the painting shows its age a bit around the edges, it is not as altered as the landscape around Mirror Lake. We plan to make sure that it is well preserved, so in years to come visitors can see Eden Park as it was in earlier times.
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