Wednesday 5 November 2014

On the Mend: Part II

An update on the conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath 

Before treatment began
Last week I described how the painting had been removed from its old stretcher and the excess wax carefully removed. The next steps in the treatment plan are to mend the tear in the canvas before lining the canvas for support and to enable re-stretching before retouching the loss so it is no longer a focal point.

Mending the tear 

The fibres around the tear were broken and in disarray and some were sitting on the wrong side of the canvas covering original paint. To have any hope of getting a flat surface (crucial for achieving a perfect retouching) and recovering the hidden original paint meant hours under the microscope, removing old fill and carefully placing the fibres back into their original positions. These were supported by the addition of a few new threads where threads had been broken or were missing.

1. Under the microscope the mess of matted fibres embedded in the white fill is apparent  2. Looking at the same area with transmitted light, after the fill was removed and the fibres were aligned and new fibres were being added to fill in gaps. 

This highly delicate work can only be achieved under magnification.
Filling and lining 

The old losses were then filled and the painting was lined onto a new lining canvas using a vacuum table and with temperature control. After lining, the painting could be stretched onto a new stretcher.

Lining the painting

1. During lining the painting is under vacuum 2. The painting is stretched and ready for retouching
Varnishing and retouching 

The final stages of the treatment are the varnishing and mimetic retouching which aims to make the new repair invisible to the viewer.

Further research

Before a treatment begins, the painting is subjected to a thorough examination, and throughout the conservation process the conservator naturally gains a pretty intimate knowledge of a painting. Examination under magnification reveals just how the painting was made, identifying pigments, revealing the build-up of paint layers and changes since execution. Occasionally samples of paint can be taken and looking at these under strong magnification can reveal the painting’s composition. Two samples were taken from Woman with a Floral Wreath using a method shared in a previous post.

These samples shed light on how the ground was applied – unusually, in three distinct and separate layers.

A tiny sample of paint from the flesh tones of Woman with a Floral Wreath. The upper layer of paint shows a mixture of red, blue, yellow, black and white pigments used to create an area of flesh in shade. The bulk of the sample is three layers of white ground. 
The information gained from these will hopefully make it possible to make an informed estimate of the origin of the canvas. It is hoped that this research into provenance through technical examination will be continued after the treatment is complete. The discovery of French newsprint on the old stretcher, the ground structure and identification of pigments are all great leads for further research on the provenance of this painting.

Fragments of newsprint on the old stretcher
Please check back later for further exciting developments, and to see the painting after the treatment is complete!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

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