Narrated Old Master Painting Conservation

Narrated Old Master Painting Conservation


In this video, I’m going to walk you through the process of conserving this old master painting which, as you can see, is a little bit worse for wear. with multiple tears, punctures and paint loss in addition to a very thick, very discolored layer of surface grime, varnish, and linseed oil. This painting is really hiding from us right now and revealing it will be quite exciting. The first step in this painting’s conservation is to remove it from the stretcher support. Now working slowly and carefully, I will remove all of the tacks that hold the painting to the stretcher. Some of these tacks are rusty and embedded into the wood and require quite a bit of effort to remove. With all the tacks finally removed, I can begin separating the painting from the stretcher support, taking care that there are no hidden tacks or staples or other fastening devices, I can remove the stretcher and set it aside. As you can see. There’s quite a bit of grime built up behind the stretcher support. Using gloves to protect both me and the canvas, I can begin the process of removing this strip lining. Strip linings are new pieces of canvas that are added to the original tacking edge to provide more support where it’s weak. Now oftentimes these are glued but in this case, it has been stitched directly to the original canvas and while not a first for me, it is pretty rare and generally not very effective. After the strip lining is removed, I can begin the process of removing the patches. Now luckily in this case, the adhesive that was used to bond the patch to the canvas has deteriorated such that I can just peel it off. Same goes with the strip lining on the bottom of the painting. As you can see, it comes off quite easily. With all of the supporting structure removed, the adhesive can then be addressed. In this case, it’s an animal skin glue which is hygroscopic, meaning that it’s susceptible to absorbing moisture; in this case, warm water, making it easier to remove Once it’s all scraped off, I will press the area with cotton blotter paper and a weight so that the canvas doesn’t deform. The next and arguably most interesting and rewarding part of this conservation will be cleaning of the painting. Now in this case, the painting has a very thick layer of linseed oil atop a layer of surface grime and then atop an old discolored varnish. I’m using a gelled solvent to soften and remove the linseed oil which in this case is coming off pretty easily but in most cases does not yield. Now once the solvent gel has done its work I can use a liquid solvent to clean up the residues and we can start to see what is underneath all of that grime. Now while this may look haphazard or reckless or messy particularly to start with the face of one of the characters, all of this has been tested before I did any of this work The tests are very small and they’re done on the edges of the painting that are covered by the frame rabbet just in case. Further, years of experience with this particular problem has given me a wealth of experience onto which I can draw when I come across these situations in the future. So I’ll clean up the residue and then we can see just what lies beneath. I’ll continue to work slowly in contained areas to remove all of the surface grime, linseed oil, and old varnish and once all of that’s done using solvents, I will then go back into the painting using mechanical means to clean up any residues. In this case, in the impasto, there is some that I wasn’t able to remove with the solvents. Using dental tools and scalpels I can be sure the painting is cleaned Here with the painting fully cleaned, we can start to see what the artist’s vision entailed. Keep in mind, there’s still a lot of work to be done The repair of the structural damage to the canvas begins at the microscope using dental tools and tweezers to carefully realign the frayed canvas fibers into a new state. Here they can be held in place with a conservation adhesive and allowed to dry. Once that step is complete, Belgian linen strands of canvas can be dipped in an adhesive and laid perpendicularly across the tear providing additional support so that the canvas doesn’t open up in the future. Because the tacking edge of the canvas was damaged and in the case of the bottom edge totally missing, we’re going to have to add a new piece of Belgian linen to provide support. Now fraying that edges of the linen not only maximizes the contact with the adhesive, but it also makes sure that there’s not a hard edge that could telegraph to the face of the painting. Using a thermoplastic heat activated conservation adhesive film, I can bond the tacking edge to the original canvas using an iron and weights to make sure that there’s no deformity as the canvas cools. With all of the structural work now complete and the painting fully stabilized, it can be returned to the now cleaned and repaired stretcher support. When returning to painting to a stretcher, it’s important to make sure that the painting is properly aligned so that none of the image is lost when it’s secured with tacks. I prefer to use sterilized steel blue tacks, and I’ll begin in the center of each edge and work my way towards the corners ensuring a nice tight stretch without any waves or ripples. Once I reach the corners, I’ll tuck the canvas under and secure it with a tack. I can then go about the process of cleaning up the excess and tidying up the reverse. I’ll fold the canvas under itself and secure it with a smaller tack. I can then begin the process of adding tension to the painting, using a key inserted into the floating mortise and tenon joint in the corner. With just a few taps of this wooden key, I can be sure that the canvas has the proper tension Filling in where the paint was lost is the first step in the retouching process so I’ll overfill and then remove the excess and ensure that I have a perfectly matched and even surface onto which I can retouch. With this painting, I’m going to be adding a high molecular weight synthetic resin layer atop the painting and among many benefits, one that’s particularly important is that it’s going to saturate the colors and simulate what the painting is going to look like with final varnish, thus allowing me to retouch to the paintings colors as they will look not as they are. Second only to the cleaning process in terms of engaging aspects of conservation is the retouching process. Whereas cleaning is reductive, retouching is additive and the area where I get to put the painting back together and help the artist’s original vision shine through. Now, using special conservation pigments that are light fast and reversible, I will slowly work my way through and match colors and address any areas of damage or other visual interference on the painting. There’s no secret to this. It takes a lot of patience, takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to get the colors right. But as with everything, the more you do it the easier it becomes and when you work into a rhythm, the retouching process can be pretty rewarding. Now here, I’m just going through and touching up these tiny little defects to the boy’s face just so that when we look at it, we see the face and not the little defects. With the retouching all complete, I can begin the process of varnishing the painting, and the first step is to apply a thin low molecular weight synthetic resin varnish to the entire surface of the painting via brush. Going back and forth very slowly, I’m ensuring that I have a nice even layer of this resin atop the entire surface Now once that resin is dry, I can then go back and spray on a glossier version of the same resin to give it the painting that final sheen that I’m looking for. When the painting came into the studio, it was certainly in bad shape with some structural damage and a lot of discolored varnish, surface grime, and linseed oil obscuring the painting. With all of that grime and linseed oil and varnish removed and the structural damages repaired, we can see what the artist saw when he or she deemed the painting complete. The true colors are now revealed, the surface has a beautiful sheen, the painting is stable and sound and ready to go on the wall and to be enjoyed by a whole another generation. Thanks for watching and go check out my website and social media for more content.

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