Diana Hartman repairs Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand (1907)

Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand

Sturgeon bladders and surgical tools breathe new life into a painting.
MoMA September 12, 2019

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Conservation Stories. In this series, our video team presents an intimate glimpse of MoMA’s conservators at work, and the innovative thinking and unexpected materials that go into preserving works in MoMA’s collection. In our first episode, Diana Hartman looks at Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand (1907), an exciting new addition that is among the oldest paintings by a female artist in the collection, and thought to be one of the first self-portraits of a pregnant woman.

To ready the work for our new reinstallation, opening in October, Hartman tackles the question of how to repair losses in the painting’s canvas support. She figures out that a curved needle typically used in eye surgery might allow her to avoid removing the work from its original stretcher. And her inventiveness doesn’t end there: Using an adhesive made from a sturgeon bladder, she secures linen thread to the needle to darn the pieces back together with the help of a microscope. Hartman shows how she makes unobtrusive repairs, to keep viewers’ gaze focused on the portrait itself. “Just by doing this treatment,” Hartman says, “we’ve given a breath of fresh air to this painting.”

For more on this painting, check out MoMA's publication.