Talk #96, 6/24/15

The Final Endeavors of the “Monument Man”

John Asmus
Research Physicist
Department of Physics, UCSD

In September 1973 two advisors to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower met for the first time, but in a hospital room in San Diego.  George Stout, retired Director of the Gardner Museum of Boston, had led the “Monuments Men” in recovering artworks that had been confiscated during World War II.   Walter Munk, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography had led the team that forecast the sea conditions for the Normandy Invasion. There, in Room 507 they set in motion the events that led to the establishment of the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC) and the Center for Art/Science Studies (CASS) at UCSD. This talk will take a look back at this era in the life of George Stout, the “Monument Man”.

In that era Stout was primarily interested in the conservation of paintings and he proposed laser varnish ablation for improved cleaning of paintings. As a Visiting Scholar at CASS, he first performed laser ablation on a Serbian Icon  depicting “Our Lady of Tikvin” from the Timkin collection. Today, forty years later, this technique of painting restoration is widely employed by hundreds of conservators. Shortly before he died in 1978, George Stout suggested that CASS attempt the virtual restoration of painted compositions through digital image processing (IP). Simultaneously, Lord Kenneth Clark asked CASS to apply digital IP image restoration to the Louvre “Mona Lisa” in order to reveal Leonardo’s original artistic intent. Subsequently, the CBS News Anchor, Walter Cronkite, rented the “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre Museum for a Monday, and the image enhancement was accomplished on one of the most famous and valuable paintings in the world.

The presentation can be viewed or downloaded by clicking on the following link:

Presentation:  Final Endeavors of the “Monument Man”