Texts & Research

Plaster and granite: Art technological perspectives in the conservation of Vigeland’s Sitting Man and Woman, Their Foreheads Touching

Sitting Man and Woman, Their Foreheads Touching (1916) is the original plaster model for one of Gustav Vigeland’s first sculptures carved in Iddefjord-granite for the Monolith Plateau in the Vigeland Park. The plaster sculpture has an uneven patina with areas of hard contrasts between dark and light surfaces, and several old retouches to the form – some of which are quite rough.

In the spring of 2021, a conservation treatment of the sculpture was considered and completed. In planning the treatment, the historic and aesthetic values connected to the sculpture were emphasized through an archival investigation into the art technological aspects of Vigeland’s production. My article about the project (in Norwegian) is available for download here.

Master thesis: Fracture – A material technical and value-based conservation study of plaster sculpture based on Gustav Vigeland’s Camilla Collett

Plaster casts are essential tools in the traditional sculptor’s process, often as models for works of art in other materials. The properties that enable precise transfer of detailed surfaces by casting, has made plaster a favored material for copying. As museum objects, plaster casts feature regularly in both monographic collections in sculpture art museums and more broadly in the variety of different academic cast collections.

Plaster casts as a general category of museum objects, and plaster as a material for sculpting, was undervalued for a large part of the 20th century. Perhaps as a consequence of this, the literature on practical approaches for remedial conservation of such objects is scarce within the field of sculpture conservation. My master project sought to respond to the gaps in research on this topic.

Gustav Vigeland’s plaster model of Camilla Collett (1909) is an example of a cast used as model for a bronze monument; I storm (1911), placed in the Palace Park in Oslo, is Norway’s first public statue of a woman. More than one hundred years after its making, the plaster model today shows visible structural damages, with fractures and material loss in several areas. Around the shoulders and arms, a shawl with fringes of plaster is modeled on metal reinforcements. The fringes and their adjacent areas are particularly damaged.

The thesis took these issues as a point of departure for discussing ethical treatment options and value-based conservation strategies for fractures and material losses. With an overarching constructivist methodology, qualitative interviews and experimental tests, this research has investigated current practices in caring for plaster casts and the ethics of interventive treatments. The thesis also discusses virtual restoration as a tool in ethically demanding conservation decisions.

My work with the master thesis was astutely guided by my supervisor Douwtje Lieuwjke van der Meulen, conservator at the Department of Archeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo. Fulltext in Norwegian is available for download here.