LED Lighting and Blue Pigments

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (French, 1704–1788), Self-Portrait, 1764

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (French, 1704–1788), Self-Portrait, 1764, pastel on paper, Norton Simon Art Foundation

John Griswold, Conservator
May 7, 2020

The Museum has been installing a new LED lighting system, and one of the interesting results has been how it can accentuate blue pigments in our works on view. It’s subtle, but enough to reveal how Maurice-Quentin de La Tour used blue paper to its full advantage in setting the cool atmosphere in his self portrait. Curator Gloria Williams Sander and I recently had the chance to examine this exquisite pastel out of its frame. To our delight, we were able to document how it remains stretched on its original wooden strainer. The edges had once been protected with several layers of pasted paper, including some French-language newsprint. These brittle layers have flaked away to reveal bits of the original, un-faded blue paper, protected for more than 250 years from light. Ultraviolet light reveals how the artist worked to allow the blue hue of the paper to show through the pastel, especially on the chin.

John Griswold is the Conservator of the Norton Simon Museum, where he leads efforts to preserve and care for the Simon collections. This article is from the series "Dispatches from the Conservation Studio."