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Conservation Notes: Kress Fellow Tessa Thomas and posters of the Belle Époque

Tessa Thomas and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster.
Tessa Thomas and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster


The Samuel H. Kress Foundation provides yearly grants to cultural heritage institutions to support a conservation training fellowship; only nine awards for Kress Conservation Fellowships were presented for the 2013/2014 year and the AGO is pleased that the foundation selected us to receive a grant. Maria Sullivan, manager of Conservation at the AGO, calls the fellowship for emerging conservators — administered by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation — "a unique opportunity for the AGO and for conservation training in Canada.”

“Having a Kress Fellow here in the AGO Paper Conservation Lab is such a wonderful way to engage with our fabulous collection, with dynamic discussion and sharing of conservation principles and techniques within a large collecting institution,” says Joan Weir, the AGO's conservator, Works on Paper.

As our Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Conservation, Tessa Thomas's work is focused on the conservation of Ross R. Scott and Donald R. Muller's recent remarkable donation to the Gallery: more than 75 posters, prints and drawings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and artists in his circle. The poster revolution of the late 19th century transformed the city of Paris, created an obsession with colour lithography among leading artists and shaped the future of printmaking, poster design and advertising. More than a century later we are still captivated by images of the notorious celebrities of the Belle Époque and with the ambiance of the cabarets, cafés and dance halls.

To begin, Thomas completed a condition survey of the collection to identify the overall condition of works within the donation and to distinguish the unique characteristics of each work by visual examination. The initial survey gave insight into the broad spectrum of materials within the collection and provided interesting findings. For example, there are a few posters that have revenue stamps that denote which posters may have been displayed publicly when they were first printed in the late 19th century. Many of the posters show ink stamps, but one poster in the collection has a unique paper stamp, as seen below.


The range in size of the posters is also quite significant, with the largest posters measuring between 160 to 164 centimetres high by 115 to 122 centimetres wide. Any major conservation treatment of these works is sure to present unique challenges and require special considerations. As a result, the next step for the treatment of the collection will be to determine treatment priorities and develop a treatment methodology for the posters. Thomas’s research into the production of Belle Époque posters includes looking into the history and practice of the lining of posters, including past and present preservation techniques. Look out for more posts on her progress as the project continues.

About Tessa

Tessa Thomas is the current Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Conservation at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Tessa is a graduate of the Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation Program and was the recipient of the 2011 Emerging Conservator Award presented by the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property (CAC). Tessa specializes in the conservation of paper objects and brings with her experience in conservation and collections care from cultural heritage institutions in Canada and abroad, including The National Archives, London, England; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Royal Ontario Museum and the Archives of Ontario.


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