A Collaborative Venture: The Conservation of Morlete’s Ports of France

In 2007 we acquired a remarkable group of six paintings by the Mexican painter Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz (1713–1772). This group of works, on view now in our Latin American galleries, is based on engravings after Les Ports de France, an original series of fifteen paintings completed between 1753 and 1765 by the eighteenth-century French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789). Commissioned for Louis XV of France (r. 1723–74) by Abel-François Poisson, marquis de Marigny and brother of Madame de Pompadour, Vernet’s series enjoyed immediate success and was widely disseminated through prints.

Over the past two years the museum’s departments of Latin American Art and Paintings Conservation closely collaborated in studying and restoring Morlete’s paintings. The result is quite mesmerizing. When we acquired the works they were covered with a yellow varnish layer that obscured the contrast and tonality of the original colors and flattened the perspective. Once removed, the illusion of space and depth returned, revealing the work of a thoughtful and highly skilled artist. Careful technical examination also yielded much information about the artist’s technique and use of pigments. This video, narrated by actor Julian Sands, documents the fascinating process of conserving Morlete’s pictures.

Ilona Katzew, curator and department head, Latin American Art

Joseph Fronek, senior conservator and head, Paintings Conservation

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