Conservation Science Initiatives

The Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are currently working with the University of Texas at Dallas on a new partnership focused on conservation science projects. This partnership provides the museums with an opportunity to collaborate with scientists and utilize analytical equipment available at UT Dallas to undertake long-term research projects that focus on new techniques and technologies in science for the study of artists’ materials.

Dallas Museum of Art

The Dallas Museum of Art open its new Paintings Conservation Studio in November 2013, as part of the Museum’s initiative to establish a comprehensive  conservation program.  The conservation program at the DMA is led by Chief Conservator Mark Leonard and will be supported by the newly appointed Associate Conservator of Objects, Fran Baas.

The Paintings Conservation Studio features state-of-the-art technology—including a digital x-ray system—and will serve as a center for study and treatment of works of art as well as research into cutting-edge conservation methodologies. The Studio is adjoined by a public exhibition gallery, which will highlight the works of art on view with a conservation perspective.

paintings conservation studio
Paintings Conservation Studio Photos Courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art


First Series of DMA Painting Conservation Projects Now on View in the Dallas Museum of Art Collection Galleries

Dallas, TX—February 10, 2014—The first four paintings from private collections to undergo conservation treatment in the DMA’s new Paintings Conservation Studio are now on view in the Dallas Museum of Art’s European galleries on Level 2. One of the four, The Blacksmith Cupids by Charles-Antoine Coypel, has subsequently entered the DMA’s permanent collection. The remaining three loans, along with the Coypel, are part of the Museum’s new conservation program to collaborate with private collectors on the study and care of their collections, and then present the works in the DMA galleries for public viewing.

In addition to Charles-Antoine Coypel’s The Blacksmith Cupids, the newly restored loaned works include Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s 18th-century painting Dogs Playing with Birds in a Park; a masterpiece of early Renaissance Netherlandish painting, Saint Ursula Protecting the Eleven Thousand Virgins with Her Cloak; and an Italian 14th-century painted wood panel showing  the martyrdom of an early Christian saint.

“Conservation loans are a significant part of our plans to expand the DMA’s in-house conservation program,” said Mark Leonard, chief conservator at the DMA. “In many instances, these types of partnerships result in the opportunity to exhibit the works on public view for a period of time after completion of the conservation treatment, and in the case of the Coypel, add the work to the Museum’s collection. We are extremely grateful and excited by this opportunity.”

Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s Dogs Playing with Birds in a Park, painted in 1754, is now installed next to the Oudry’s Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron in the DMA’s European gallery. The French artist was well known for his “portraits” of animals, particularly the favorite dogs of his aristocratic and royal clients. Saint Ursula Protecting the Eleven Thousand Virgins with Her Cloak is an exquisite example of Renaissance painting from the Netherlands. With this painting, the DMA exhibits for the first time a work by the artist known as The Master of the Legend of St. Barbara, who was active between 1470 and 1500. The oldest of the three loaned works can be dated to as early as 1390. This rare fragment of a predella (a series of scenes commonly found at the base of large Italian Renaissance altarpieces) is by the artist Gregorio de Cecco di Luca of Siena. The superbly painted panel shows a scene of an early Christian saint reverently kneeling in prayer awaiting his death.

Charles-Antoine Coypel’s The Blacksmith Cupids from c. 1715–1720 is a highly finished preparatory sketch for a decoration Coypel made for the space above the fireplace in the bedroom of Louis d'Orléans, duc de Chartres, in his apartments at the Palais-Royal in Paris. This painting is a fascinating rediscovery of a work thought to have been lost since 1752, when it last appeared at the estate sale of the artist’s brother. It is the first work by this artist to enter the DMA’s collection.

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Images (left to right): Charles-Antoine Coypel, The Blacksmith Cupids(Les Amours Forgerons), c. 1715-1720, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Campbell; Gregorio di Cecco di Luca, The Martyrdom of an early Christian Saint, c. 1418-1424, egg tempera on panel, collection of Suzanne Deal Booth and David Booth; Jean–Baptiste Oudry, Dogs playing with birds in a park, 1754, oil on canvas, private collection; The Master of the Legend of Saint Barbara, Saint Ursula Protecting the Eleven Thousand Virgins with her Cloak, c. 1470-1500, oil on panel, collection of Suzanne Deal Booth and David Booth


About the Paintings Conservation Studio
The new Paintings Conservation Studio at the Dallas Museum of Art opened in 2013 as part of the Museum’s initiative to establish a more comprehensive in-house conservation program. The Paintings Conservation Studio features state-of-the-art technology—including a digital X-ray system—and serves as a center for study and treatment of works of art as well as research into cutting-edge conservation methodologies.  An adjoining gallery regularly rotates works of art, providing a space for visitors to explore the conservation process in greater detail through visual representations.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country, which enrolled 50,000 members in its first year.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.


Understanding “Ultramarine Disease” with Dr. Ken Balkus, Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics
This project will focus upon a well-known but little understood problem found in areas of Old Master paintings containing ultramarine blue. Even in well-preserved pictures, areas of natural ultramarine (which is ground lapis lazuli) can turn grey and flat, resulting in formless areas of drapery, landscape and sky, for example. Often referred to as ‘ultramarine disease,’ the phenomenon has never been adequately explained, and its cause – as well as any potential for treatment – remains largely a mystery. 

The molecular structure of ultramarine blue falls within a specific category of materials known as ‘zeolites,’ which refers to a cage-like outer structure containing specific atoms (in the case of ultramarine, sulfur atoms) locked within the exterior framework. Professor Ken Balkus, Professor of Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is one of the world’s leading experts on zeolites; he and his team of collaborators have taken an interest in exploring ultramarine disease with the goals of identifying its causes and determining whether or not the phenomenon can be reversed. 

Mark Leonard, Chief Conservator at the Dallas Museum of Art, has prepared a number of natural and synthetic ultramarine blue paint samples, which currently are undergoing analysis. After this first stage is complete, re-creation of damaged surfaces will be carried out through a variety of methods; these changes will then be studied and characterized. Once a mechanism mimicking what is seen in actual paintings is identified, small samples of areas of paintings from the DMA’s collection that are afflicted with ultramarine disease will be studied in micro-detail. With a full understanding of the phenomenon’s underlying mechanisms, opportunities for reversing its damaging visual effects can be developed. 

Photo courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation.


Pigment and medium analysis of Paul Gauguin’s “Under the Pandanus” with  Dr. Amy Walker, Associate Professor, Department of Material Science & Engineering, School of Engineering and Computer Sciences
Dr. Amy Walker, who has significant expertise in Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), has begun working with Mark Leonard, Chief Conservator at the DMA, as well as Heather MacDonald, The Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art at the DMA and Sue Canterbury, the Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the DMA, in an exploration of the potential for using SIMS as an analytical tool for the examination of Gauguin’s painting materials and techniques.  Initial studies are focusing upon a prime example of Gauguin’s work in the DMA collections, Under the Pandanus, I Raro te Oviri, which was painted in Tahiti in 1891. If the initial explorations prove successful, further studies will be carried out on “pairs” of works by Gauguin (the paintings in each pair are nearly identical, but one version was painted in Tahiti and the other was painted after Gauguin’s return to Paris).  The results of the technical studies will help shape an exhibition of these works that is planned to be on view at the DMA in 2016.

Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903 Under the Pandanus (I Raro te Oviri), 1891 Oil on canvas Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc., 1963.58.FA

Heather McDonald and Mark Leonard


Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is home to the only museum conservation studio in North Texas specializing in the preservation of Photographs and works of art on paper. It is staffed by Sylvie Pénichon, Conservator of Photographs, and Jodie Utter, Conservator of Works on Paper, as well as a post-graduate fellow, currently Tatiana Cole, Photograph Conservator.
The 1200-square-foot conservation studio is fully furnished with fundamental analytical and imaging instruments, along with advanced equipment for the specialized treatment of photographs and works on paper. It allows conservators to perform thorough examination, documentation, and treatment of works of art, as well as conduct preliminary testing of materials used by artists, conservators, and other museum personnel.

The Kodak Dye Transfer Process How Eliot Porter Captured Color, with Jie Zheng, PhD  Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

The Kodak Dye Transfer process was one of the most successful early forms of color photography. American photographer Eliot Porter (1901─1990), whose archive is in the care of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, used dye transfer printing for capturing color images for his entire career. Therefore, his artwork provides a unique opportunity to gain a better understanding of the technical developments of dye transfer materials and how they evolved from 1945 to 1994.

The collaboration with UT Dallas will focus on two topics that will ultimately contribute to a larger study of dye transfer material characterization, identification and conservation.

Dr. Jie Zheng, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UT Dallas will use his Raman microscopic system, which can detect Raman emission down to the single-molecule level, and possibly FT-IR spectroscopy to obtain characteristic spectra of Kodak cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes used for the dye transfer process. Their chemical makeup was consistent throughout their period of manufacture, though there were a few changes made during this time, and the goal is to gather data that will reflect these changes.

Research will then progress toward using advanced microscopy to determine the effects common photograph conservation treatments may have on these kinds of color photographic materials. Potential changes to a photograph that can occur as a result of treatment include migration of dyes and alterations to original surface gloss and texture. The information gained from this study will help conservators preserve an important type of color photograph, the Kodak dye transfer print, as well as provide the UT Dallas scientific community with an opportunity to apply their expertise to the study of fine art.

Figure 1. The Kodak Dye Transfer process involves three matrices (top) that absorb three different dyes (middle) that are then transferred one by one onto one absorbent receiving sheet, which ultimately becomes the final print (bottom). The matrices are created photographically via three separation negatives (not shown), which can be made from a color transparency or directly within a specialized camera. Image by Eliot Porter.

Figure 2. The Raman microscopic system in Dr. Jie Zheng’s lab, which can detect Raman emi