William Robinson Research Project

National News Categories: 
Publish date: 
2 Sep 2015
Author: 
Sophie Theobald Clark & Gillian Osmond, QAGOMA

A significant QUT and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) collaboration to research the technical art history and conservation treatment of William Robinson’s paintings was begun in November 2014 with the two year appointment of paintings conservator, Sophie Theobald Clark to the project.  

William Robinson (b 1936) is a highly respected Australian artist whose paintings have a significant presence in all principal Australian museums and galleries, in private collections and in public collections overseas in Auckland, Vatican City and New York. The most significant collection of Robinson’s work exists at QUT’s William Robinson Gallery at Old Government House in Brisbane, including two Archibald Prize-winning works.

The impetus for the William Robinson Research Project began after the QUT Art Collection had been photographed and surveyed in 2013-2014 by conservator John Hook and photographer Richard Stringer. This survey was prompted by the significance of the collection and the emerging stability issues of the paintings. QUT senior curator Vanessa Van Ooyen facilitated the collaboration with QAGOMA in support of the study of Robinson’s materials and techniques and with aim to inform conservation of his work. The project is fortunate to have the generous cooperation of the artist and the facilities and expertise of the conservation department at QAGOMA, who also have significant Robinson works in their collection. Funding for the research obtained by QUT employs Sophie three days per week, QAGOMA painting conservator Gillian Osmond one day per week and John Hook in a consulting role.

William Robinson’s work spans almost six decades and has reflected his life through its different phases accordingly. The last four decades have constituted the most significant years of Robinson’s work. His subjects have changed from intimate interiors to humorous farmyards to epic landscapes and have returned to interior and still life scenes in recent years. Interestingly, the techniques and materials used by the artist are also quite distinct for each corresponding period, changing from more local Australian resources to internationally sourced materials as commercial success provided a broader range of possibilities. The constant in Robinson’s materials and techniques has been his conscious effort to use materials reputed to be traditional and stable.

The project will utilise several strands of investigation to establish the most thorough and sound knowledge of the artist’s materials and techniques and to inform approaches for best practice in conservation. Research will draw on literature review, interviews with the artist, condition surveys, technical analysis of selected works, a conservation practice survey and treatment of key works in the QUT Art Collection. Three artist interviews have provided an initial guide to the materials and techniques of Robinson’s paintings, their storage and travel history, as well as a brief survey of those used for works on paper, bronze castings, and ceramics. Analytical techniques applied to paintings and samples to date include optical microscopy, Fourier Transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX), and FTIR imaging microscopy at the Australian Synchrotron. The combination of interviews and analysis has already established that Robinson’s paintings are far more complex than the artist’s recollections and intentions suggest. In turn, analysis has prompted new, informed questions that will be presented to the artist in future interviews. Interesting trends are emerging which it is hoped will assist understanding and management of specific vulnerabilities. Detailed results will be published separately.  

As part of this research Sophie is interested to hear from conservators who may have encountered paintings by Robinson. A survey is planned for distribution in coming months but your contributions or questions are welcome at any time. Sophie can be contacted at sophie.theobaldclark@qagoma.qld.gov.au