Description of Digitized Archival Materials
More than 10,000 historical and conservation documents and images from the National Gallery of Art Gallery Archives, National Gallery of Art painting conservation department, and Samuel H. Kress Foundation Archive have been digitized for the project so far.
Eight categories of archival materials were selected for digitization among the records of the National Gallery of Art: Art Object Records, Expert Opinions, Alan Burroughs Reports and Shadowgraphs, Condition and Restoration Records, Work Summary Logs, Conservation Reports, Photographs, and National Gallery of Art Mounted Photographs.
These materials were selected from the records of the Gallery’s painting conservation department and three series in the Gallery Archives:
Generally, Gallery Archives holds original documentation for Kress Collection objects in the National Gallery of Art permanent collection, and copies of documentation for art objects held by other institutions.
In time, additional conservation reports and photographs from the records of the Painting Conservation Department will be added to the resource to provide more comprehensive documentation of Kress paintings in the care of the National Gallery of Art.
The project team also scanned documentation from the 1.7b Dealer Correspondence and Bills of Sale series in the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Archive to illustrate each recorded acquisition event. Comprising invoices, receipts, contracts, and correspondence, these documents record purchases by Samuel H. Kress and the Kress Foundation from art dealers and private collectors.
The documents list attributions and prices for objects and sometimes provide information about condition and provenance. They also record returns of objects and credits (refunds on the original price) after their sale, which often coincided with a change in the attribution of an object. Acquisition correspondence not related to a specific acquisition record is organized under the type Other Documentation and linked to the relevant Dealer and Collector record.
In the future, additional digitized archival materials from other sources will be included to further enrich the resource
Art Object Records
Kress Foundation staff compiled key information on the provenance, publication and exhibition history, physical characteristics, and expert opinions for Kress collection objects. Typically, the object record appears on the back of an object photograph—usually a print by photographer Murray Keyes—but sometimes as a standalone typescript document. Companion typescript pages were sometimes used to record publication history or compile expert opinions, if the information could not be contained within the back of the photograph. Art Object Records were likely created between the 1930s and 1950s.
Samuel H. Kress and the Kress Foundation solicited opinions from various art historians concerning works of art in the collection. These expert opinions attribute an artwork to an artist or school and often include commentary on the condition, subject matter, and distinctive features of the object.
The most common form of expert opinion is a photograph with notes handwritten on the reverse. Most of these photographs were printed by Murray Keyes for the Kress Foundation, which sent the prints to experts for their appraisal. Many are undated, but the bulk of dated opinions were written in the 1930s. A single photograph may contain the written and signed opinions of multiple historians. Other forms of expert opinions include typed narratives and correspondence. Some experts wrote in Italian or German and a translation was included.
While nearly 50 art historians are represented, the bulk of the expert opinions are written by Bernard Berenson, Giuseppe Fiocco, Roberto Longhi, Frederick Francis Mason Perkins, William Suida, and Adolfo Venturi.
Alan Burroughs Reports and Shadowgraphs
Alan Burroughs, a former curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art began experimenting with x-radiography at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum in the early 1920s. Though x-rays had been used to investigate the structure of paintings since the end of the 19th century, Burroughs suggested that “shadowgraphs,” as he called them, could serve as a tool for attributing artworks by revealing how artists painted. He made x-rays of many works of art at the Louvre and the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bode-Museum) with the goal of creating an archive for establishing the techniques of specific painters.
In 1930, Burroughs began working closely with Kress restorer Stephen Pichetto to provide x-rays and analytical reports for paintings in the Kress Collection and potential acquisitions. In 1943, Burroughs furnished the Foundation with his x-rays, paired with his typed condition reports. Burroughs continued to do research on Kress paintings until the early 1950s.
The reports Burroughs submitted to Pichetto were usually carbon copies of his typed narrative describing the work’s condition, underpaint, and style, as well as his attribution. The reports were usually signed with the stamp Report by Alan Burroughs. The earliest Burroughs reports (from the early 1930s) were usually shorter and do not have the stamped signature. Burroughs’s photographic prints of an x-ray negative are sometimes glued to the left side of the corresponding report. Standalone reports sometimes appear to have been printed on paper narrower than letter size because they were cut from a print, trimming the page’s width.
Condition and Restoration Records
Condition and restoration records summarize the contemporary condition and previous restoration work of a Kress Collection object. The Kress Foundation enlisted staff member Henry Hecht to create the reports for all objects in the 1950s. Hecht’s drafts—sometimes written from memory rather than examination of the object—were later reviewed by Kress restorer Mario Modestini, who often annotated the reports for clarification. A final version of the report was then typed out on the front side of a piece of cardstock. Data from the completed condition and restoration records was summarized in the Complete Catalogue of the Samuel H. Kress Collection.
The condition and restoration records exist in various handwritten, typed, and photocopied iterations, all of which follow one of two similar layouts and share key information. Basic identifying information—Kress number, artist, title of the object, acquisition date, location and name of owning institution, dimensions, support, and medium—is listed.
On the bottom, a brief summary of the object’s condition and restoration history is documented. On the reverse, the form contains additional information about either the existing record of images (file negative data) associated with the object, or the dimensions of the object’s frame. The information on the back side of the form was not consistently completed.
Work Summary Logs
Before the 1970s, few museums required the consistent and thorough documentation of conservation work that is standard of the profession today. Work was recorded sporadically and sparsely, if at all, and often in the form of work summary logs.
The logs in National Gallery of Art conservation laboratory files are titled Repair of Work of Art on columned forms typed on cardstock. In contrast to the condition and restoration records, the work summary logs are a contemporary record of conservation activity as work was completed. Conservators entered the month and year of their activity in the left column and typed one or two sentences to the right of the date.
Their notes include their examination observations (“Dull—too shiny”), scientific investigation (“Made an ultra-violet examination”), and treatments (ranging from “Wiped” to “Unframed, corrected white spots in sky, rocks and right, robes of figures in the foreground and the cloth. Refinished the surface and reframed”). Occasionally a completion date and a comment in the Condition after Repair column was included (usually “good”).
Entries in the logs date from 1941 to 1971. The object identifier noted on the logs is the Legacy NGA Number (former accession number assigned to the object by the National Gallery of Art).
Conservation reports are the official narrative records of conservation work, which have become standard practice for major conservation work beginning in the mid-20th century as the conservation profession’s emphasis on thorough documentation grew.
There are four common examples of these documents: examination summaries, treatment proposals, treatment reports, and scientific analysis reports. Most National Gallery of Art reports date from the 1970s to 2010, and may include illustrations such as graphs, details, and annotated photographs.
Examination summaries detail an object’s construction and describe the condition of its substrate and media in a narrative summary of findings from examination of the object, analysis of specialized imaging such as x-ray or infrared photography, and other methods of inquiry.
Treatment proposals are created to describe, recommend, and obtain administrative approval for a major treatment to stabilize or improve the condition of an object. Sometimes treatment proposals and examination summaries are combined in a single document.
Treatment reports are narratives of completed treatment proposed and approved in a treatment proposal. The work described may include cleaning, repairs, or other major conservation activities.
Scientific analysis reports are narrative summaries of scientific exploration of one or more aspects of an object. Types of scientific analysis undertaken in conservation include substrate or media analysis and x -ray fluorescence (XRF), among others. Additional scientific analysis reports for Kress paintings found in the records of the National Gallery of Art scientific research department have not yet been included.
Photographs and National Gallery of Art Mounted Photographs
Recognizing the importance of visual documentation, the Kress Foundation made a concerted effort to create and maintain a complete image archive of Kress objects. Photographs were invaluable as visual surrogates by which Kress leadership and experts could evaluate an object’s beauty, value, condition, and authenticity. Beginning with Murray Keyes during the 1930s, a series of photographers recorded objects in New York and later at Huckleberry Hill, the Kress conservation and storage facility located in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania.
Conservation photographs were taken by or created at the request of Kress Foundation restorers to document an object’s appearance before, during, or after restoration. Technical images, such as infrared photographs, ultraviolet photographs, and x-radiographs (exemplified by the early Burroughs shadowgraphs), were also created as an adjunct to conservation examination as these technologies became available. Kress Foundation–era photography was created from the 1930s to 1960s.
Conservation and technical photography continued for Kress objects in the care of conservators at the National Gallery of Art as needed for examination, investigation of materials, or other scientific inquiry, providing important visual support for narrative conservation reports. The imaging technologies available to conservators have greatly expanded to include a myriad of techniques; however, x-radiography, infrared reflectography, and ultraviolet light exposure remain the most common. These images date from the 1970s to 2010s.
National Gallery of Art mounted photographs are photographs of works of art mounted onto a cardstock form listing the title and artist and, rarely, additional notes. The object identifier noted on the cards is the Legacy NGA Number (former accession number assigned to the object by the National Gallery of Art).
The Kress Foundation donated its holdings of Kress Collection photographs and negatives to the National Gallery of Art Library image collections department (then known as Photo Archives) in 1977. The images have been digitized and made available online as the Kress Collection of Historic Images. Object records link to these images when available.
These materials are provided for research and study purposes only. They are not to be distributed or used for publication, commercial, or advertising purposes without written permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.