CONSERVING THE PAINTING
Loose and Buckled Canvas
The canvas had major distortions because the original stretcher no longer held the canvas taut.
Analyzing the Damage
Conservators analyzed the condition of the extensively damaged painting and developed customized techniques for preserving it.
The entire paint surface of this 7' x 11' portrait was badly damaged and flaking. Here, a bull’s eye of flaking paint with a pattern of radiating cracks marks the impact site of a basketball thrown against the painting during its days hanging in a school.
To consolidate flaking paint, different adhesives were tested. The selected consolidant was applied to Mylar strips that were placed on the painting’s surface. A hot air gun melted the adhesive so that it would flow under the paint flakes and relax the brittle paint. Gentle pressure with a spatula then helped to re-adhere the paint to the canvas.
A Delicate Process
After painstakingly securing the paint layers inch-by-inch, and cooling of the consolidant, conservators carefully peeled the Mylar strips away from the paint surface.
Excess Consolidant Removed
Excess consolidant is cautiously removed from the paint surface with solvent on cotton swabs, which also eliminates the first of many layers of embedded dirt and grime. Given the monumental size of the painting, even a small task takes on impressive proportions.
Partially Consolidated Surface
Consolidation of the paint and removal of the multiple grime layers restored the structural integrity of the surface and allowed the paint’s colors to once again reflect light as the artist intended.
Stained and Torn Canvas
As well as surface staining, the painting had several old tears, the largest of which (below Henry Clay’s feet) posed several challenges for conservators.
Repairing the Tears
After coaxing the edges of the tears together, they are rejoined from the back using canvas threads reinforced with strong, long-fibered paper. Losses of canvas are filled with small canvas inserts.
Canvas Worn Thin
Light shining through the painting from behind reveals the silhouette of the stretcher member (to left of center), areas of paint loss, as well as an extremely thin and weakened canvas.
Lining the Canvas
After consolidation strengthened the paint surface, conservators could attach a new fabric lining to the back of the degraded original canvas to provide structural support. Here, a conservator applies a synthetic lining adhesive to the back of the painting, prior to lining on a specially designed heated suction table.
Preparing New Fabric Liner
An important step in lining the canvas is preparing the new fabric to precise specifications.
Lost Paint Flakes
In addition to several large areas of paint loss, there were hundreds of tiny, scattered flakes of paint that had been lost over time. Each loss had to be infilled and inpainted by conservators to restore the integrity of the painted design.
Infilling Paint Losses
After applying a new synthetic resin varnish coating over the whole surface, a paste of calcium carbonate and glue is meticulously applied to each area of paint loss, filling the tiny voids to form a smooth surface for later inpainting.
Infilling the Tears
Significant paint and ground losses on the front side of the repaired tears are infilled to match the texture of the surrounding paint.
Ready for Inpainting
A profusion of infilled areas (seen here as white spots) are ready for inpainting after a second thin coating of varnish is applied.
Pigments in a synthetic resin medium are custom mixed to match the surrounding paint colors.
Using a very fine brush with an artist’s skill, conservators carefully inpainted areas of loss using chemically stable and reversible paints that can be removed in the future if necessary. Care is taken not to overlap onto the original paint.