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Hamilton Kerr Institute

Fitzwilliam Museum

During the later half of the eighteenth century, especially the period around the French Revolution, what was happening in France in the field of painting restoration influenced all of Europe (including England).

Ann Massing

During the later half of the eighteenth century, especially the period around the French Revolution, what was happening in France in the field of painting restoration influenced all of Europe (including England).

  The Origins of the Profession in France

This research has now been published by Brepols with ISBN: 978-1-905375-34-9

 In 1750 the Museum of Luxembourg in Paris was opened to the public, and it became necessary to display paintings which had been in storage for years. Then King Louis XVI (r. 1774-1792) and his advisor, the Count d’Angiviller, created a much larger national collection of paintings as propaganda for the French nation – the arts were meant to reflect the power of the state – an activity that required the works of art to look at their best. And with this came the need for painting restorers doing quality work – more than just the quick repairs as done by painters in the past – and several full-time painting restorers were employed. After the French Revolution, Napoleon pillaged the churches and public buildings of Europe, bringing quantities of works of art back to Paris, and the same painting restorers continued their work – although often under protest as their workload increased. French restorers began to travel to England and to other European countries more frequently, spreading knowledge of their techniques abroad (especially about the lining and transfer of paintings). Around the turn of the century, a national concours was established to choose the most capable from a growing group of candidates; a school of restoration was also planned.

Thus during this period – the second half of the eighteenth century – the profession of painting restorer became established in France. Some of the documents concerning the restoration careers of the restorers of that period employed by the French Royal Collection, and then by the new French Republic, survive in the archives in Paris. Madame Marie-Jacob Godefroid was a very prolific female restorer working for the French Royal Collection in the mid-eighteenth century. During her restoration career, she cleaned paintings – retouching was the task of a male colleague – and did the structural work, such as the lining of canvas paintings and the transfer of panel paintings to a new canvas support. She also did in-situ work in other royal houses. She was employed full-time for thirty-two years. Her son, Joseph-Ferdinand-François Godefroid, became a painting restorer and had an interest in what we would today term preventive conservation. He also published reports on collections of paintings and wrote restoration reports. He re-restored many of the paintings his mother had restored only a few years earlier in the more precise pointiller technique that had become the norm. There are also many documents concerning Mme Godefroid’s colleague and rival, Robert Picault, the ‘inventor’ of the transfer technique. Jean-Louis and François-Toussaint Hacquin were also important figures of the period. The careers of the father-and-son teams of Picault and Hacquin span the second half of the eighteenth century, and there are many contemporary references to François-Toussaint Hacquin’s restoration of Raphael’s Virgin of Foligno – a restoration procedure that was widely published and provoked considerable admiration and controversy.

The first chapter of the book begins in the seventeenth century, when another active full-time female restorer, Margaurite Bahuche, provided a precedent for Mme Godfroid’s career. By the early nineteenth century, the number of painting restorers increased so considerably that my story came to a natural conclusion with the death of François-Toussaint Hacquin in 1832 – about the time of the Restauration (of Louis-Philippe to the throne) in 1830. In my publication, the biographies of the main painting restorers of the period are placed into context with the historical and cultural setting. The text of each chapter reads easily, but embedded in the footnotes and appendices, the more interested reader can follow up the historical and technical information that has been gleaned from my in-depth archival research. In this study, I have only begun the enormous task of identifying the individual paintings referred to in the eighteenth-century texts, but a framework is provided for the future research which my French colleagues have already begun.

This information is of extreme importance as we realize more and more that how a painting looks to us today is closely linked to its restoration history. This awareness is becoming increasingly reflected in the museum and exhibition catalogues that now frequently include technical information about paintings. Many of the paintings mentioned in my book, once in the French Royal Collection or in the Louvre Museum during its early years, are now either on view in France or they have gone back to their county of origin or even further abroad. Present location is, however, of minor importance in today’s world; international travelling exhibitions often present paintings by the same school or artist next to each other, and an explanation of their restoration history is often required to explain the difference in their appearances today

The outcome of my research will be, I hope, of interest to painting restorers and art historians as well as interested readers; future technical historians will be able to build upon the information presented. Technical art history and the history of restoration are developing fields of research, and have become a timely subject.

This work has been compiled under funding from a British Academy Research Readership from 1995 to 1997 and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship from 2004 to 2005.

 Ann  Massing
Painting Conservator and Assistant to the Director - Emeritus