We have had a very busy start to 2012, we have been working to have Poedua ready for display in March and preparing a number of paintings for the upcoming touring exhibition Angels and Aristocrats.
After the painting was re-stretched following the structural treatment, the old restorations including overpaint and old fills were removed. The old fills and retouching were poorly matched to the original paint layer, in colour and texture, and in areas were broader than the damages, extending over areas of original paint.
After the knowledge gained during the varnish removal and a number of further tests we determined that the only safe method for removing the old restorations was mechanically. This involves very carefully scratching and chipping the additions away from the original layers. This is done with small scalpels and dental tools under the stereo microscope. It is very fine work and requires and strong and steady hand!
As you can imagine this is quite a time consuming process – each movement removing a barely perceptible amount, a square centimetre can take an hour or more.
Once all the old retouchings have been removed we can see the painting in its barest state – all that is left is the artists work and with the damages and deterioration exposed. We record this with photographs before the next stage of restoration begins which involves adding to the painting to ensure the work reads according to the artist’s intent.
The first stage of restoration is the filling of the losses in the paint layer. Many were revealed after the removal of the old restorations and the tiny pin hole loses caused by water damage in the lower centre of the painting were also filled. We use commercial chalk based filler which has been tested and proven to have favourable ageing qualities, remaining reversible with time.
It is very important to emulate the paint layer texture in the fills and in the cause of this painting the texture is predominately the twill canvas texture showing through the very thin paint layer. Under raking light we use small spatulas, scalpels and dental tools to create the required texture.
The painting is now ready for the first layer of varnish!
Come and hear about the conservation of the painting when Katherine and I present our work on Monday 5 March at Te Papa. Find out more here.