Short History of Cobalt Blue

Also known as Thénard’s blue, cobalt blue has appeared on objects, frescos, ceramics and glass since antiquity. Painters and painting enthusiasts today know it as a distinctive and warm yet deep complement to ultramarine, phthalo, manganese and other blues.

The pigment’s nickname comes from chemist Louis Jacques Thénard, who discovered a stable version of the material in 1802. Before that time, artists using cobalt worked with the appropriately named Smalt, an unstable pigment derived from cobalt ore and developed during the 16th century. Little is known about the production behind earlier appearances of the color.

Independent of process, cobalt blue has been popular among figurative and landscape painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Maxfield Parrish and Giambattista Tiepolo. Contemporary installation artist Eve Laramee even covered the floor of an entire room with Cobalt-colored glass in her piece Requiem for a Blue Field. Beyond fine art, the color is used in ophthalmology, both as a filter in ophthalmoscopes and as a dye used to detect corneal ulcers and scratches.

Vincent Van Gogh’s The Yellow House has received notice from critics about its use of Cobalt. (image courtesy of

What do you think of Cobalt blue? Tell us in the comments.

A Ketonic Quandary

This Ricard Anuszkiewicz acrylic painting from 1969 came to our conservation team slathered with a very discolored ketone varnish.  Now, I don’t know how much you know about pairing acrylic paint with a ketone varnish, but bottom line is, if you ever want to remove the varnish, it will be very tricky to not also remove the original acrylic paint layer as well.

Of course, our client wanted the varnish removed.

So, we did some testing on the painting, and immediately realized that it’s not just the varnish that makes cleaning this difficult, it’s also the impasto of the painting.  Each line is painted differently, and the painting is kind of sculptural; almost like a bas-relief in that the impasto is raised and lowered with each line.  It’s hard to show in a photo, but here’s a mega close up so you can see how small the lines are:

So! With all these obstacles ahead of us, we forged on ahead slowly and carefully and managed to remove most of the varnish.  To do so, we soaked small q-tips in solvents for several hours.

Then we took one q-tip at a time and worked lined by line between the impasto layers, carefully removing the varnish from the painting.  It took hours, but the results were remarkable.

1 section cleaned
half cleaned
Fully Clean

…and now onto the structural work…

Architectural Digest Home Design Show

Ever wanted to feel a piece of gold leaf?  Or gild a frame?  Or watch as a conservator inpaints losses on a painting?  Stop by the Lowy booth at the 2011 Architectural Digest Home Design Show and these dreams, and many more, can come true!  This year’s show runs from March 17th through March 20th.  Lowy can be found at booth #436.  Learn more about the show here:

Lowy art conservation: it’s own thang

Lowy has launched a brand new website dedicated to our art conservation department!  You can now reach both sites with one click at, and just select your destination.  (Sounds a little like a trip to the beach, doesn’t it?)

Well we don’t have a beach but there are super exciting features such as the ask a Lowy conservator section: submit your question and check back on the site for an answer from a genu-ine Lowy conservator.  And much much more!!  Check it out for yourself and please send feedback!!

Beyond the Frame: Meet the Faces of Lowy Art Conservation

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Picasso, Monet, Pollock, or even a Van Dyck. You probably know we’ve framed works by these great artists, but what you may not know is that we’ve touched their art in another, equally important way: through conservation.

For over 100 years, Lowy has been a leader in the field of conservation. We’ve done work for many of the great museums, private collectors and galleries. Today, our talented team is led by Chief Conservator Bill Santel and Senior Conservator Lauren Rich who together offer over 50 years of academic and practical experience.

Our conservators combine true artistic talent with the latest science and technology, and are dedicated to the preservation of works of art using the most reversible and least invasive, yet effective techniques. This approach has earned Lowy a reputation for the highest ethical and professional standards.

We hope you enjoy the video and we would welcome and appreciate your thoughts and comments.