Previously, I posted about the pictures that hung in my Grandma & Grandpa Lueders’ living room and how I was able to identify who they were. According to Grandma, they were Keith’s (and my) Gr-Gr-Gr Grandparents and they were buried in Germany. But that was all they knew. I learned, among other things, that their names were Heinrich and Caroline Lüders and they lived in Mecklenburg near the Schwerin Sea in northern Germany.
This time, I would like to talk about the portraits themselves.
I began this adventure by trying to determine a date for the pictures based on the style of clothing the subjects were wearing. I contacted Liza Shade at Washington County Museum. I knew she had curated an exhibit in Hillsboro on the history of lady’s fashion and had some knowledge on the subject. She, in turn, forwarded my email to two expert seamstresses that had helped her in the past. They all agreed that the clothing worn in the portraits was:
“definitely mid to late 1820’s because the waist on the black dress is not as high up as in earlier periods. However, the neckline and sleeves, along with her hairstyle are very much 1820s.”
That was exactly what I was hoping to hear! I knew from church records that Heinrich and Caroline were married on Oct. 13, 1826. The portraits could well have been made at the time of their wedding. They may be the only portraits ever made of them. Remember, this was before Smart Phones; before Instamatics; before Brownies; before Daguerreotypes even. If you wanted a picture, you hired an artist.
So how did these pictures get from Mecklenburg to Oregon? Here’s my theory. Heinrich and Caroline both died before 1854, when their son, P.A. Lueders, emigrated to America. It makes sense to me that he, as the eldest son, would have brought the pictures of his parents with him. I assume that he, in turn, left them to his eldest son, August Lueders, who left them to his only son John Lueders (Grandpa had 5 sisters, no brothers). My grandparents were from Milwaukee, WI but later moved to California which is where I grew up seeing the portraits hanging in their living room.
Now for the physical condition of the artwork. First of all, they are not oil paintings as I previously assumed. They are pastel on paper. Very thin, very fragile paper. As soon I opened one of the frames I realized that I was going to need the services of an expert paper conservator. After a brief search I made an appointment for a consultation with Elizabeth Chambers. She works out of an upstairs studio in SE Portland and is a delightful person with a wealth of experience dealing with anything made of paper.
Once out of the frames, we found that Heinrich’s portrait had the beginning of another face sketched on the back. Perhaps the artist did not like the way it was going so he turned the page over and started anew. The paper is so thin that the finished pastel image on the front can be seen in reverse from the back.
The edges of the paper are glued to what we assume is the original matte which had a rectangular opening. That is a problem because the paper is not free to move with changes in temperature and humidity. Furthermore, the matte and backing are not acid free or archival material. Unfortunately, being so fragile, Chambers thought it unwise to attempt to separate them. The oval matte that was used when Grandma & Grandpa had them re-framed in the 1950’s is not much better as it has also left its mark.
At some time, probably also in the 1950’s, someone attempted to fix a small tear by gluing it down to the cardboard backing. The technique looked OK for 60+ years but it resulted in an even larger tear when disassembled. That is the big gaping hole you see above. Fortunately, the entire fragment survived intact.
In spite of all this, the color and brightness of the pastel images is very good.
The two images appear to have been drawn by different artists and they were, in fact, done on different materials. The paper for Caroline’s portrait is noticeably thicker and stronger than Heinrich’s. Some people, including me, have described the portrait of Caroline as “amateurish” because the proportions are not right. Others, who know more about art that I do, say that it is the more interesting of the two because, they say, some artist today are trying to emulate the look and feel of these older portraits. If that’s the case, we have the real deal; an authentic, old, portrait of someone who also happens to be a relative..
The artwork stayed with Chambers for a few weeks while she removed as much of the harmful materials as possible, de-acidified everything, and replaced the backing with archival materials. She also put the fragment back in place and did some very minor re-touching.
While she was doing that, I brought the frames home, built them up to make room for thicker matte and backing material, and refinished them.
The next step, when I got the portraits back from Chambers, was to have some good quality photographs taken while they were still out in the open.
Finally, I took everything to Framing Resources for reassembly. The existing mattes with the oval holes were discolored but could not be removed so we opted to place a new matte over them with a slightly larger hole. This provides a clean surface and also adds another step and more space between artwork and glass.
I also chose to use “Museum Glass” which offers UV protection and is so clear and non-reflective that you want to poke it to see if it is even there.
So here is Heinrich and Caroline hanging on the wall again. For now, they are on my wall. The treatment plan I have implemented would not be adequate for, say, the Declaration of Independence. But hopefully, it will keep our treasured family heirlooms safe and secure for another 190 years.