A Case study of an oil on canvas painting

A painting that came to our lab some five springs back makes a very good study for the students who have just started learning the practice of conservation.
It was a portrait of great-grandfather of Maharaja of Kapurthala. Ignorance of the staff responsible for the upkeep of the palace had led to multiple problems. Not just the flaking paint layer, it had portions of edges of canvas mended by rexine-like material, numerous re-touchings, layers of thick, yellowed varnish.
I would try to share the detailed observations, the problems and their solutions. It might take more than one posts to completely explore this case study.

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Observations:

  1.  A high level of tension was observed in the painting because of the differences in the flexibility and brittleness of various layers of fabric (canvas), ground and paint, and the thick and brittle layer of varnish, canvas being stretched and held in place with the help of nails on the strtcher. The canvas was distorted and paint was flaking off mainly because of this differential stress.
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  2. Strip lining with some rexine-like material was pasted on three of the four edges of the canvas.
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  3. There were deep cracks as well flaked off paint. Paint layer was completely lost at many places. Detail pics On Site pics (11)
  4. Background was heavily re-touched and many smaller re-touchings were observed in the central figure too.

    The belt and specially the area above its buckle was repainted very casually.  1_IMG_0093

  5. Varnish had yellowed because of ageing. 011

Solutions:

  1. The flaking paint pieces need to be secured before any other treatment was given.
  2. Varnish and re-touchings had to be removed
  3. Consolidation was required for flaking paint layer
  4. in-painting was required
  5. Protective coating was also required

The next post  will be about the detailed treatment record, specially how we started with removing varnish with solvents and swab-stick and found solvent gel more effective and time-saving!

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Author: namitajaspal
Namita Jaspal, with inherited skills of art and aesthetics and passion for science, opted to pursue post- graduation in ‘Conservation of Cultural Property’ after her graduation in Science from Delhi University in 1992. Four year intense training at National Museum Institute provided the right foundation to start a career in Conservation. She is currently practicing conservation consultancy for Heritage property including monuments and collections. She has been doing independent research in conservation techniques and procedures in Indian context. She is currently working on the conservation of wall-paintings of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden temple at Amritsar. The project is nearing completion and getting a lot of appreciation for the organized and ethical treatment it is providing. It is for the first time in the history of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden Temple) that wall painting conservation and preservation is being done in a scientific manner, keeping the codes of Ethics into consideration while decision making. Another project just completed is of the Conservation of Krishna Temple at Kishankot, Gurdaspur, Punjab. In her private Conservation Laboratory, she is not only providing onservation services, but also mentoring young aspiring conservators and archaeologists by the way of training and paid internships. She has been a guest lecturer at DIHRM (Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management). With all the updated knowledge database and innovative practical approaches relevant to the Indian conditions, she could successfully do curative and preservative treatment of very old textiles like a nine feet long flag from nineteenth century that is regarded as priceless memorabilia of second Dogra regiment at Chandi Mandir, and four hundred years old (seventeenth century) Chola Sahib Ji of Sixth Guru of Sikhs, Sri Hargobind Sahib Ji. Apart from this she has done conservation of Photograph collections, archival records, numerous paintings, manuscripts and other cultural objects. She is also involved in preparation of up-gradation proposals for museums and such organizations. Her expertise includes Conservation and preservation technologies and procedures for conservation of varied material like wall paintings, paper, photographs, textile, ceramics, stone, metal and archaeological objects.

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