Restoring one of our largest paintings: Relining Van Dyck’s ‘Charles I’ | National Gallery

Restoring one of our largest paintings: Relining Van Dyck’s ‘Charles I’ | National Gallery


This is Van Dyck’s
‘Equestrian Portrait of Charles I’, which we have finished cleaning, removing the old varnish
and old restorations. And it’s now at a stage where
we are going to start doing the relining, that is taking off
the current lining canvas which was used to support the original. And, before we do that, we have to put on this tissue paper as a protective layer when the painting goes face down and the lining canvas is peeled away, and the old adhesive, in this case
a wax resin-based adhesive, is scraped from the back of the painting. The reason why we’re lining this painting is because, firstly, it has a number
of undulations in the surface and other distortions, and the painting is now coming away
from the lining canvas. As you can see here, there’s no longer any bond between
the lining canvas and the original. During the relining, we are very lucky to have a number of people
from other institutions to help us with this relining project, which is funded and supported
by the Getty. I’m Francesca Bettini
and I’m a painting restorer. I come from
the Painting Conservation Department of the Opificio in Florence. I’m here for the Van Dyck project, thanks to the National Gallery
and thanks to the Getty Foundation, and I’m very glad
to take part in this project because it’s a great opportunity
to improve my knowledge about treatment
of canvas structure problems. It’s a great opportunity to see
different methods and approaches on large-size paintings and to learn all these methods, the new technologies, new materials, and also to reflect on some problems in some canvas treatments. We’re removing the lining because it was causing problems
to the painting, and we are going to change it
and put a new lining on. My name is Lucía Martínez,
I came from the Prado Museum, Madrid. Of course, you always learn things from each treatment,
from each restoration, because in Italy and Spain
we have another tradition, so this is a great chance to learn about different materials
and different procedures. So far, we’ve applied a facing tissue
to the front of the painting to protect the front while we work
on the back of the painting, and once the facing tissue was applied, we brought the painting downstairs, where we removed the old lining. There’s quite a lot of excess wax resin
on the reverse of the painting, and so we went in with scalpels to scrape off
as much as we possibly could. My name is Gerrit Albertson. I’m a Fellow
in the Paintings Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York. I’m here at the National Gallery
to help with the structural treatment of Anthony van Dyck’s
‘Equestrian Portrait of Charles I’. It’s fairly common, actually,
nowadays in conservation not to do lots of structural treatment on paintings on canvas,
which is very good, but sometimes you get a work,
like we have here, which really needs some treatment to be structurally stable
and sound for the future. So, it’s a really wonderful opportunity
to come here and to learn the techniques
and the methods of the conservators here and to learn how they work
on such a large-scale painting. So what we’ve done here
is we’ve temporarily attached these strips of polyester fabric
to the front of the painting, using a heat seal synthetic adhesive. And you can see,
if I flip the painting upright, that we’ve attached the strips not directly to the front of the painting but to the protective facing tissue
which covers the front. We’ve done this
so that we can now attach the painting, using these strips, to the stretcher, so that we can then flip
the painting upright, so that we can continue
the lining treatment. As you can see in the centre, we’ve reinforced
the original seam of the painting, and we’ve done that because
it’s a very fragile part of the painting, and when we move the painting, we want to make sure
that we don’t cause any damage. The original canvas here
is what’s called a ticking canvas. Ticking canvas is a kind of utility canvas
which is usually pretty strong, and it’s also very well woven,
it’s quite fine, and this is probably why Van Dyck
chose this particular canvas. And in the middle here, just over here
in the centre of the picture, you can see Charles I’s monogram
for the collection of Charles I. It says CR with a crown above it. This is the lining canvas
that we’re going to use to adhere the painting by Van Dyck to. It’s now stretched onto a wooden loom, or wooden frame, which you can see here, then it’s stretched, and then we’ve wetted it a couple
of times already and re-stretched it. And you can see, as it’s wetted,
it goes drum-tight. That’s because the fabric is shrinking. We want to get it to shrink in order to make the canvas more inert to get all the shrinkage we can out of it. And tomorrow,
we will do the same thing again, but that time we will wet it with an aqueous solution
of magnesium bicarbonate, which will deacidify this canvas and extend the life expectancy
of the material. Well, this is the lining setup
for the Van Dyck. It’s called a vacuum envelope, and essentially it’s a plastic bag in which the painting
and the lining canvas go together. The bottom of the plastic bag or envelope consists of this thick plastic material. And then we have the lining canvas,
which you can just see in here, which is prepared with the adhesive, and then the painting goes
on top of the lining canvas, and then we have to establish a vacuum. These grey pipes which run
round the edge of the painting have holes drilled in them, and they run all the way round, and then are attached
to these points here, where this tubing is, to vacuum pumps, so that takes all the air
out of the plastic bag. And then we have a top sheet
which completes the seal. So, it’s all under vacuum, the painting is tightly held
to the lining canvas. It is then carried onto a lining table,
which acts as the heat source, but it has to be heated up in two halves. So, this half will be heated up first, and once that reaches
the desired temperature, it is moved across the table
to the other side, and so the second half
will then be heated up. Once it’s achieved the temperature, then the painting is just taken off
back onto this table to cool down, and that is the end of the lining. This painting has been lined many times and all these treatments created problems. For example, we know that the canvas is sensitive to heat and sort of buckles. So, we had to take
that element into account because, obviously, that was going to be
a big problem for the lining. And so we had to work around that and find a solution,
which was the envelope, because the painting doesn’t fit
on the lining table. My name is Camille Polkownik,
I’m a paintings conservator, and I work for the Royal Collection Trust
in London. Paul doesn’t get fazed by anything,
it’s like a problem comes up, and immediately he starts thinking
about the next solution and the next solution
and the next solution. So, it’s really reassuring to work
with someone that experienced because you know that whatever happens there will be a solution
for the next problem. And I think the most important skill
that I learned is problem-solving: getting from one problem to another,
staying calm and just trying to find the next solution. I am Eva Martínez. I came from the Prado Museum in Madrid. I am taking part
in the Canvas Getty project here in the National Gallery. I have taken part in the preparation
of the relining and in the relining process. It is a very good experience for me because it has been an opportunity to know the work of Paul Ackroyd, who is a very important reference in the field of conservation, and it has been
a very good opportunity for me to take part in this project with him. We’re now in the final stages of re-stretching the painting
onto its stretcher. And here, this is the edge
of the lining canvas. As you can see, we had stretched it
and put in these copper tacks. The copper tacks are good
because they don’t rust and they won’t degrade
the edges of the lining canvas. And then, after that, we’re just neatening up the edges
and making sure that they’re stuck down, and then putting in the stretcher keys
to tension the painting a little, and then tying them in
with this nylon twine. That’s fairly important because these
have a habit of falling out of their slots and falling down
behind the back of the stretcher and causing lumps
at the front of the picture. So, this will take us
just the rest of this morning, and then the painting is ready
for varnishing and a bit more filling and then retouching. It is really nice
to be part of this project. In a good sense, it’s surprising how open people are, so very welcoming to me
and the international team. My name is Lisette Vos and I’m a paintings conservator
at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I have actually never done
a lining myself. Of course, every painting requires
a different treatment, so not all linings are the same. But, for me, this is really
a great opportunity to get this experience and to really see
how a lining in practice is done. Well, the lining is now complete,
and the lining went very well. We gained an awful lot
in improving the surface of the picture during the course of the lining. At the moment, we’re just adjusting
some of the filling that we did earlier and texturing some of the losses. In adjusting the fillings,
we’re trying to make them the same level as the surrounding original surface. Where there’s a loss,
there’s obviously a hole and that has to be filled
to the level of the original, and then that has to be textured because if you just retouch
on top of a smooth fill those losses will look
as sort of glossy patches, which will be very noticeable
and very distracting when you look at the painting
in the galleries. So, once the filling has been completed, the painting will be varnished by brush. And once that is dried, the retouching process can start, and we do this in a synthetic
retouching medium that is non-yellowing, mixed with dry powder pigment. The retouching will take somewhere between nine to ten months to finish, and then, finally,
we put on a spray varnish just to even up the gloss of the surface. I have to thank the Getty Foundation
and the National Gallery for providing this opportunity
to come and to learn, and then to be able to bring
what I’ve learned here back to the Metropolitan Museum. Being involved with the Getty,
it’s being involved with an international project
but also an international crowd, so it means you’re learning
from other people, you’re also networking. And I think that because
the Getty is so famous for its educational projects, for young conservators
to be chosen to be a part of it is really rewarding and really encouraging
for my career, definitely.

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