One of the Cincinnati Art Museum's most famous works appears to most visitors to be a beautiful, well-preserved post-Impressionist painting. However, most visitors do not see what the museum's chief conservator, Per Knutas, sees in this masterpiece. Not only is Vincent van Gogh's 1890 painting Undergrowth with Two Figures on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum, but now its chief conservator is too.
Born in Sweden, Knutas was trained in Denmark and previously worked at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art before coming to Cincinnati two years ago.
For me, it's really important to heighten the awareness of conservation, Knutas said. Most of the time, conservators are tucked in the back vaults of museums. People just expect the paintings to look great. But there's actually a profession behind the painting.
Visitors to the museum can watch as Knutas slowly and carefully removes wax that was applied to the masterpiece in the 1970's and prepares the piece for loan to Philadelphia Museum of Art next year. Wax was put onto the back of the painting to protect the canvas and secure the paint. But, Kuntas says some of the wax seeped to the front surface, obscuring van Gogh's vibrant colors. The microscope he uses for the detailed work is hooked up to a 42-inch flat screen monitor, enabling patrons to see the painstaking conservation work like never before.