Getty, U of A partner to conserve long-lost “Woman-Ochre” painting

Getty, U of A partner to conserve long-lost “Woman-Ochre” painting
Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - A painting stolen from a University of Arizona museum, more than 30 years ago, will soon undergo conservation efforts.

According to a U of A news release, "Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning will be studied and conserved by staff at the J. Paul Getty Museum and scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute.

Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)
Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)

The painting had been stolen - cut from its frame, ripped from the backing and rolled up, from the University of Arizona Museum of Art the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. It was missing for three decades before it was discovered by the owners of a New Mexico antiques store, they immediately returned the painting to the museum.

"At the Getty we were thrilled to learn that this once-lost painting – a remarkable de Kooning – was returned to its rightful place in the collection of the University of Arizona Museum of Art," said James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, in a recent release. "We are deeply honored to lend our expertise in conservation to bring this painting back to its best state and on view for the public once more, and to use this as an opportunity to advance the field of conservation."

Working together, conservators and scientists at the Getty will study, repair, clean, conserve and document "Woman-Ochre"; including reuniting it with the original frame.

Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)
Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)

According to the news release, the project will take a year, beginning in April 2019, with the painting going on view at the Getty Museum in the summer of 2020 and then being returned to the UAMA.

"I am thrilled that the Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute are taking on the challenge of restoring 'Woman-Ochre,'" said UA President Robert C. Robbins, in the same release. "This brings us significantly closer to returning this masterpiece to the campus community and public for examination, education and appreciation."

The project will be overseen by Ulrich Birkmaier, Senior Conservator of Paintings at the Getty Museum and Tom Learner, Head of Science at the Getty Conservation Institute.

According to the release, the Getty and the university will use the project as a teaching tool, providing access to students such as a UA Ph.D. candidate in chemistry who has experience in materials analysis on paintings.

The GCI is well versed in the work of de Kooning. In 2010, the GCI worked closely with Susan Lake, then head of collection management and chief conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, on an in-depth study of his paintings from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)
Kooning paintings (Source: University of Arizona)

The Getty Museum also regularly undertakes the conservation of key works of art from institutions around the world as part of its overall philanthropic mission. The Museum has developed an active collaboration program where it works in conjunction with guest conservators and the curators from institutions whose works are being conserved. These projects are undertaken at no cost to the institution in exchange for the opportunity to show the work in the Museum's galleries following conservation.

About ‘Woman-Ochre’

Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands and moved to New York in 1926. He was one of the pioneers and leaders of the abstract expressionist movement, which began in New York after World War II. In 1950, de Kooning began his best-known body of work, his “Woman” series, which included “Woman-Ochre,” completed in 1955, and in 1958 it was gifted to UAMA by donor Edward Joseph Gallagher, Jr. Before it was stolen, the painting was regularly exhibited at UAMA and loaned to several important exhibitions on de Kooning and related artists at major museums around the world.

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