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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Robert Havell's use of color on Audubon's aquatints - an analysis by the finest paper restorer in New York City. This essay has been written by Helene Lowenfels, the director of Arader Galleries at 1016 Madison Avenue. Helene visited with Marjorie Shelly, the senior paper restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.

Caleb came to 1016 to take the Wood Ibis off the floating mat - Tony wrapped it and I went to see Marjorie Shelley today at 4 with Nina. Marjorie studied the Ibis under an incredibly impressive, largescale microscope that projected the image she saw under the scope onto a digital flat screen. The technology was amazing. Marjorie examined the sky in particular as that was the reason for our visit - she was able to determine that it was not sepia (she gave us a brief lesson on sepia and said that she has in fact never seen sepia ink in an Audubon print - it was used primiarily in drawings - prints utilize earth tones that were more readily and easily available; similarly, graphite was never used in prints). She speculated that the colorist used
indigo or azurite (a richer blue) pigment and the technique he most likely used was to put down a layer of blue pigment, then he put it through the press with black ink and then used the aquatint technique on the copperplate; she commented that every color has a different texture, and we could physically see where the engraved lines were more pronounced than others. The sky of this print has the thinnest blue hue and as the blue is seen throughout the print its thickness varies. Regarding the other colors besides blue, he varried the use of yellow to achieve other colors - in many cases she thought he combined  black and yellow to produce green. Green, she explained, is typically a combination of blue and yellow particles. She showed us an area very zoomed in near the birds foot where the color was not absolutely applied correctly - you can see the touch of the human hand and can detect an area that should have been colored. She named the yellow pigment as orpiment, but in order to be 100% accurate the print would need scientific analysis. Similarly, the earth colors she named as yellow ochre and burnt umber. An area of white feathers on the birds body she detected did not have any color, but rather its effect is created soley from the paper and the etching. In many parts of the print he etched on top of aquating - it was a back and forth process. She said a few times that the aquatint, under the microscope, produced a wonderful honeycomb effect and that is where you could detect the beautiful subtlety of color. She taught us also that the deep etched lines held a large amount of ink and when the grooves absorped the ink the effect was incredible richness of color. At one point she likened Audubon to an impressionist as he used optical effects of color and process to produce subtle gradations and varied depth of color -nothing is abrupt, there are tints, shadows, shades and textures.

Something poetically put was her description of his layers - they were not an exact science, but he was as precise as anyone could get.

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