Preserving a Prize-Winning Pear

Wesley Vernier, "The Great Californian Pear," 1864, gift of Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby

What is so very special about this painting? It’s just a pear. And only one at that. But it’s no ordinary pear. When the painting was brought to conservation for a minor treatment in preparation for the EATLACMA exhibition, paintings conservator Bianca May noticed something odd about the surface of the canvas near the bottom edge.

The surface was slightly cockled and when she touched it (something one should not ordinarily do) the canvas appeared to have something hard behind it. At first she thought it was just dirt and debris but when she turned the painting over and removed the backing board, out popped what can only be described as part of a plant stem—and a rather large one at that. She also noticed remnants of glue on the stem and the backside of the canvas suggesting this part of a stem was at one time adhered purposely to the back of the painting. But why would anyone adhere the stem from the piece of fruit they are painting to the back of the canvas? Well, as you can see from the inscription on the backside of the painting, this was a prize-winning, four pound, Duchesse of Anjoulene pear.

Mark Gilberg, Suzanne D. Booth and David G. Booth Conservation Center Director

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