PAINTINGS CONSERVATION & RESTORATION
Accredited conservation services, est. 1997
The Studio undertakes both restoration and preventive conservation work on all types of easel painting. Restoration is concerned with returning a painting closer to its original appearance by repairing and integrating damages to unify the whole surface, whereas conservation focuses on stabilising and maintaining the condition of the work by mitigating future deterioration.
Natural ageing and the degradation of materials over time can alter the appearance of a painting and might obscure the meaning and the artist’s original intent. These changes can present complex and diverse issues and ethical dilemmas for the conservator-restorer, and the challenge of any restoration is to narrate such changes in order to preserve and re-present the work of art faithfully. Outside disturbances can also change a painting’s appearance, such as accidental damage or unstable environmental conditions.
The Studio practices a wide range of painting conservation and restoration processes, including cleaning, paint consolidation, structural work on canvases and panels, filling paint losses, retouching and varnishing. Complex structural work on panel paintings and the relining of canvas paintings is carried out by experienced and highly-regarded structural conservators, with whom the Studio has a close and long-standing working relationship.
All such treatments are carried out with minimal intervention and are reversible. The work of the Studio is informed by current academic discussion and the ethical codes laid out by various professional associations of which Katherine is a member.
After determining the nature and stability of the original paint surface, cleaning might include the removal of dirt and dust, varnish, old restoration and other non-original material from the surface.
Cleaning the surface of a painting can reveal information that may be obscured beneath layers of dirty material or historic restoration, revivifying the paint surface and revealing again the artist’s intention.
It is Studio practice to first make a thorough assessment of a painting’s needs, including examining the work under ultraviolet light and making cleaning tests, before embarking on an appropriate course of treatment. The materials and techniques used will depend on the individual painting; its medium and support, and on the results of cleaning tests.
Paint and ground layers may become structurally unstable for a variety of different reasons; due to changes in humidity and temperature, mechanical damage, or due to the failure of earlier structural treatments.
Consolidation involves the reattachment and bringing into plane of loose areas of flaking or lifting paint and ground, using a stable adhesive and a source of heat where necessary. Appropriate adhesives are chosen to penetrate and infuse the area of concern without altering the saturation of the paint and ground, and the elevated paint and ground is brought back into plane and secured.
Structural work on canvas paintings involves treating any tears, dents or distortions to the canvas support.
In the Studio, canvases with any distortions can be tensioned, and distortions treated locally with moisture. Minor tears are mended by re-weaving the torn canvas together, either with original fibres or with new fibres if necessary.
The structural integrity of easel paintings on canvas can be strengthened by replacing a degraded relining. Where this treatment is deemed necessary, re-lining using traditional glue-paste is subcontracted out to experienced specialists with whom the Studio work on a regular basis.
Works on panel respond readily to changes in environmental conditions. As the wooden panels expand and contract over time, this may manifest as damage to the support itself: disjoining individual panels, for example, or fracturing and warping the boards.
Where a work has had a wooden cradle applied, the natural movement of the panel can be restricted by this auxiliary support. This can create distortions to the panel and sometimes causes fractures. Removing, or altering the tension of a cradle can prevent further structural damage and allow for remedial conservation treatment to any existing structural damage.
Minor panel treatments such as cradle management or the mending of fractures are undertaken in the Studio. More extensive panel work is subcontracted out to experienced specialists with whom the Studio works on a regular basis.
Accurate filling is the first stage of imitative retouching. The eye is more sensitive to texture than to colour, so it is critical that losses to the support, ground and original paint layers are filled almost up to the original paint layers, and then textured to accurately match the adjacent paint surface.
Filling treatment in the Studio involves using a stable putty to fill any areas of loss to the paint, ground and support, in preparation for the final stages of retouching work.
Retouching involves discreetly reintegrating areas of damaged paint with the original paint in order to create a unified surface.
The Studio aims to retouch in order to diminish the impact of disruptive losses to the paint layers, whilst allowing the painting to retain a sense of age. With this in mind, retouching is undertaken with a minimal approach. Imitating the original layer structure and painting technique, areas of loss and abrasion are suppressed using dry pigments and a stable resin.
Varnishes are applied in the Studio to both protect and saturate the paint layers when necessary.
Where appropriate, isolating varnishes may be applied by brush during treatment to separate the original paint from the restoration.
The final varnish layers are usually applied by spraying, and may be built up gradually during treatment to saturate the paint layers and to modify the surface gloss, creating a protective layer. The aesthetic aims of each treatment will influence the desired finish and choice of varnish.
For fragile panel paintings, ‘microclimate’ boxes can be built unobtrusively within a frame. This minimises the response of a panel to short-term fluctuations in relative humidity by creating a more stable, insulated, environment.
For paintings on canvas, unlined paintings can be protected by the application of loose linings, stretcher inserts and backboards.
Advice is also provided on collections care, as continuously monitoring the environmental conditions, storage and display of a work of art is crucial to ensuring the long-term preservation of a painting. On-site collection surveys should be routinely undertaken to assess any changes in the condition of works of art, ideally on an annual basis.