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Monday, May 16 • 9:00am - 9:30am
(Paintings) Bocour paints and Barnett Newman paintings: context and correlations

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The productive artistic career of Barnet Newman (1905-1970) peaked during the time when new acrylic paints were first introduced to the market. Magna, a solvent-soluble acrylic advertised as “the first new painting medium in 500 years” was introduced by Leonard Bocour in 1947 and was followed by Aqua-tec acrylic emulsion paint in 1963-64. Although Newman was reportedly careful about his materials, choosing to use artist-grade paints that he presumed more stable than the commercial house paints favored by his abstract expressionist contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, his personal relationship with Bocour led him to adopt these new media relatively early on: he used Magna in 1949 on Abraham and acrylic emulsion in 1964 on White Fire III and the Ninth Station in The Stations of The Cross: Lema Sabachthani series. Upon Newman’s death in 1970, a wide range of Bocour paints were found in the artist’s studio: Aqua-tec, Magna, Hand Ground Oils, Artists’ Oils and Bellini Oils (a student-grade series). A selection of these materials were gifted by Newman’s widow to Robert Murray, a sculptor and colleague of Newman’s, who donated them to the Menil Collection in 2015. Analysis of these paints, additional paints from the artist’s studio gifted by his widow to the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art at Harvard Art Museums, and of historic Bocour paints held by the Art Materials Research and Study Center at the National Gallery, was performed in order to provide comparison with the paints present on Newman paintings held at the Menil Collection and the works loaned by other institutions for Barnett Newman: The Late Work, an exhibition held in the spring of 2015. Surprisingly, XRF analysis of the paints on the paintings shows that, in the vast majority of cases, these do not correspond to the historical Bocour paints available for analysis. However, there are strong similarities in the elemental compositions of paints used on different paintings. For instance, the white paints on Now II (1967) and White Fire IV (1967) appear to be the same, while those on Unfinished Painting [The Sail 1970] (1970), Unfinished Painting [Red & White 1970] (1970), The Way II (1969) and Midnight Blue (1970) are clearly different from the earlier group and fall into a distinct class of their own. Such correspondences could arise from different batches of either Bocour or artist-derived custom made paints. However if Newman had been mixing his own paints, he must have either made large enough batches to use on multiple works, or followed recipes consistently enough to duplicate the elemental ratios so as to be indistinguishable by the technique used here. Finally, the analysis of the historic paints also reveals some discrepancies between the listed and actual pigment composition of certain Bocour products, namely supplementing more expensive colorants with synthetic organic pigments.

Speakers
avatar for Corina Rogge

Corina Rogge

Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Corina Rogge joined the Conservation Departments of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Menil Collection in July 2013 as the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist having held prior positions as the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Conservation Science in the Department of Art Conservation at Buffalo State College and the Wiess Instructor of Chemistry in the Chemistry Department at Rice University. She holds a B.A. in chemistry from Bryn... Read More →

Co-Author(s)
avatar for Bradford Epley

Bradford Epley

Chief Conservator at the Menil Collection, The Menil Collection
Brad Epley joined the Menil Collection in 1999 as assistant paintings conservator and was appointed Chief Conservator in 2006, overseeing the museum’s conservation activities and co-directing the Artists Documentation Program. Epley received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Southwestern University and his Masters/Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. Prior to... Read More →


Monday May 16, 2016 9:00am - 9:30am
Room 710 A


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