Harvard Art Museums opened today A History of Color: Audio Tour of the Forbes Pigment Collection, a digital resource that showcases the stories and science behind some of history’s most fascinating colors, all contained in one of the largest historical pigment collections in the world. The tool takes viewers on a guided tour of 27 pigments, dyes and raw materials, from ochres and coaloldest pigments known to have been used by man, for Blue YInMnwhich was discovered by accident at Oregon State University in 2009.
The living stories of these colors are shared through short audio recordings by two Harvard Art Museums staff members who work closely with the Forbes Pigment Collection: Narayan Khandekar, Senior Conservation Scientist and Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, and Alison Cariens, curatorial coordinator at the Straus Center. Each “stop” on the guided digital tour shows an image of a pigment sample from the Forbes collection along with corresponding audio clips. To provide additional visual context, many recordings are paired with images of objects from museum collections that incorporate the pigment, including links to online object recordings for further investigation and prompts on the place to see the work in the galleries. Full transcripts of each recording are also available alongside the audio prompts in the slides. Entries for other pigments in the collection will be added to the tour over time.
During the tour, Khandekar and Cariens discuss a wide variety of pigments, including Tyrian purplewhich was extracted from small Murex shells by the ancient Greeks; cochinealtiny insects that produce a red pigment first used by Aztec and Mayan peoples and later highly prized in Europe; mauve, one of the first synthetic dyes, created in 1856 during the search for a cure for malaria; and Emerald greena Van Gogh favorite (and highly toxic).
Tara Metal, head of digital content for the museums, spearheaded the creation of the journey. Its aim was to expand the representation of the pigment collection on the museums website.
“Like many of our visitors, I have long been enchanted by the Forbes pigment collection and have enjoyed learning the stories behind Narayan and Alison’s pigments over the years,” Metal said. “My goal was to make these stories broadly accessible but in a way that remains intimate. I hope our audience will leave this guide excited for the intersection of art, science and history – well sure with a favorite pigment too!”
“This introduction to the Forbes Pigment Collection only scratches the surface of our collection, but it opens up some exciting conversations about color,” Khandekar said. “Color is everywhere around us. Our spaces are filled with objects designed and colored with deliberate choice, and the pursuit of color has been around for thousands of years. Alison and I are thrilled to share these stories and shed some light on what the raw materials of artwork look like.
“I’m thrilled to be able to share the pigment stories with audiences around the world,” said Cariens. “I answer questions about our pigment collection daily, and this new guide allows me to tell individual pigment stories and the story of the Forbes collection on a larger scale.”
Georgia O’Keeffe Pigments
In March 2020, at an auction at Sotheby’s, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Harvard Art Museums jointly acquired a group of 20 pigment pots used by O’Keeffe. A wooden box that the artist used to store the jars was also part of the lot. Each pot is affixed with an adhesive label that bears the name of the pigment handwritten by the artist. The colors, including burnt sienna, indigo and madder rose, represent pigments commonly used by the artist throughout his career.
The two museums will share all aspects of group ownership, including sharing all documentation and research. The partnership will allow the pigment group to be displayed to the public at different times in each museum and will open up conversations about collaborative research projects between the institutions.
“We are thrilled to be a partner in nurturing these materials and look forward to working with colleagues at Harvard Art Museums now and in the future to share wonderful stories about these pigments and the O’Keeffe’s work with our audience,” said Cody Hartley, director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
Martha Tedeschi, director of Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot of the Harvard Art Museums, agreed, adding “we are delighted with our first partnership with colleagues at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and this innovative model of joint collections management. “.
The purchase of the pigments was financed by the general acquisition fund of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The Harvard Art Museums portion of the purchase was made possible through the generosity of several donors: Narayan and Natasha Khandekar; and the ancestors of Edward W. Forbes (namesake of Harvard’s famous pigment collection), including Weston and Susanah Howland, Sukey Forbes, Beatrice Forbes Manz, Barbara Forbes Purser, and Andrea Forbes Schoenfeld.
O’Keeffe’s Pigment Pots join many other groups of Artist’s Materials held by Harvard Art Museums, where the staff of the Straus Center and the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art (CTSMA) investigate materials, artists’ methods, and issues associated with the making and preservation of works of art. Other materials held by the museums include the paint box, brushes and palette; by Barnett Newman workshop equipment; paints used by José Clemente Orozco and Lewis W. Rubenstein for the execution of the Orozco Mural Dive bomber and tank at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1940; and the materials used by artist, lawyer, and philanthropist James Naumburg Rosenberg, many of whose paintings, drawings, and prints are also in the Harvard Art Museums.
“These pigments fit perfectly into the work done by our staff at the Straus Center and CTSMA,” Khandekar said. “As curators and conservation scientists, we strive to understand art from many angles, and this partnership provides an incredible opportunity to study material directly from O’Keeffe’s studio.”
The Harvard Art Museums hold two paintings by O’Keeffe in the collections: red and pink (1925) and A memory of late autumn (1954).
About the Forbes Pigment Collection
The Forbes Pigment Collection, which was started by former Fogg Art Museum director and Straus Center founder Edward W. Forbes in the early 20th century, has grown to include more than 2,700 samples from around the world. Forbes, along with Rutherford John Gettens – who was the first scientist hired at the Fogg Museum and who collected samples for the Gettens Collection of Binding Media and Varnishes – investigated these materials used by artists to better understand paintings and create a scientific approach to art conservation. in the USA.
The majority of the colored pigments are on display, along with samples of binders, other raw materials and historical scientific instruments, in a row of gray cabinets on Level 4 of the Harvard Art Museums. The collection is not directly accessible to visitors, but is visible from afar, across Calderwood’s courtyard, through glass walls. The cabinets are part of the Straus Center’s analytical laboratory space, where pigment samples are actively used by conservation scientists who rely on the samples for testing and as reference materials.
An installation of pigment samples was presented in the reception area of the Center for Art Studies, also on level 4, at the end of June 2017. These showcases allow visitors to have a more precise overview of the thematic selections of pigments.
The Forbes Pigment collection has been the subject of videos by CNN Big big story as well as the popular British YouTuber Tom Scott on his Built for science channel. Simon Schama wrote about the collection for the new yorker in 2018. Stories also appeared in fast business, Viceand artsyamong many other outlets.
About the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Since 1997, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has shared the art, life and story of Georgia O’Keeffe with visitors from around the world. Located in New Mexico, where Georgia O’Keeffe spent the last decades of her life, the O’Keeffe Museum offers sights and experiences in two historic destinations, Santa Fe and Abiquiú. For more information, visit okeeffemuseum.org.
About Harvard Art Museums
The Harvard Art Museums house one of the largest and most renowned art collections in the United States and include three museums (the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler museums) and four research centers (the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, the Harvard Art Museums Archive, and the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis). The Fogg Museum includes Western art from the Middle Ages to the present day; the Busch-Reisinger Museum, unique among North American museums, is devoted to the study of all modes and periods of Central and Northern European art, with an emphasis on German-speaking countries; and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum focuses on Asian art, ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern art, and Islamic and later Indian art. Together, the collections include approximately 250,000 objects in all media. The Harvard Art Museums are distinguished by the breadth and depth of their collections, their groundbreaking exhibits, and the original research of their staff. An integral part of Harvard University and the wider community, the museums and research centers serve as resources for students, scholars, and the public. For more than a century, they have been the premier training ground for museum professionals in the nation and are renowned for their instrumental role in the development of the discipline of art history in the United States. Harvard Art Museums has a rich tradition of considering the history of objects as an integral part of the teaching and study of art history, focusing on conservation concerns and conservation as well as technical studies. harvardartmuseums.org