“Mural,” the critically important painting in Jackson Pollock‘s development as a major American artist, has arrived in the conservation lab at the J. Paul Getty Museum. A visit Wednesday to see the monumental 1943 canvas, which is in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, shows why conservation work is imperative.
What the artist called “a stampede” of shapes, lines of force and rhythmic colors across the canvas had a profound effect on American art, sweeping away the nativist ethos of his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton.
But a pronounced sag can now be seen in the center of the painting at the top. Unframed, “Mural” is roughly 8 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The downward weight in the middle is pulling up the bottom edges of the canvas at the right and left. Rather than a wide rectangle, “Mural” is showing modest but clear signs of a broad, downward curve.
What caused the sagging? At some point, a new lining on the back was added to reinforce the canvas. Re-lining, a common procedure, employed a wax adhesive. Given the picture’s size, considerable weight was added to the painting.
Museum conservators will work with scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute to determine how to rectify the problem. They also plan to remove a layer of varnish from the painting’s surface, apparently added in the 1970s, which creates a slight sheen.
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