Our first priority was to secure an archival photographic copy of each of these original artworks, as well as transparencies to use in future reproductions. Accurately reproducing paintings of the delicacy, subtlety, and vibrancy of these represents a great challenge. One of the most arresting features of the paintings is the consistently perfect rendition of color of the flowers and other plant parts; Mr. Valentien had an unerring sense of color and we are very eager to reveal that in the photographs as well. Fortunately, we had one of the top fine art reproduction photographers in the San Diego area, Philipp Scholz Rittermann, working on this project. In December, 1999, Philipp made three 4 x 5 transparencies for each of the 1094 paintings. This allows us to have one archival copy stored for safe-keeping, one "working" copy, and one copy dedicated for future use in book reproduction.
Concurrent with Philipp's photography, to minimize handling, Janet Ruggles, paper conservator at Balboa Art and Conservation Center, assessed the condition and conservation needs of the paintings. She made recommendations as to the proper treatment, storage, and care for the artworks. The paintings were being stored in acid-free archival boxes in a wooden flat-file storage cabinet, but as part of this project, two new, custom-made, metal storage files were purchased for the paintings, and the paintings have been completely rehoused.
In each painting, Valentien rendered the organic wholeness of stem, leaf, flower, or fruit with a fluid and seemingly effortless grace that literally takes your breath away. When you see the white crinkled petals of the Matilija poppy leap off the page, or the spines of the cactus appear so real they could hurt you, you realize why Albert Valentien called these "plant portraits." Unlike many flower paintings that seem stiff or forced, these paintings capture the living essence of each plant, and we feel we are seeing them anew, as Mr. Valentien saw them, a hundred years ago.
Lilium humboldtii, Humboldt Lily. Watercolor and gouache (1908-1918). Albert R. Valentien (1862-1925). Gift of Ellen Browning Scripps.