This page is dedicated to all recent goings-on here in our studio and further afield.
Biagio d’Antonio Tucci (1446-1516)
This pearl of a piece arrived in our workshop earlier this year suffering from the most acute attack of woodworm we had seen in our working careers.
The woodworm had eaten right through the panel and caused catastrophic damage by splitting it in two, followed by sections of wood disintegrating and falling away. This deterioration was of such severity that one side of the panel eventually subsided, threatening thereby the entire structure.
Fashioned from one solid piece of poplar wood, a traditional structure favoured by Renaissance artists of the 15th century, this rare and exquisite piece had lost all solidity, as the worm had undermined the panel. It has taken one full year of painstaking work to stabilise and rebuild this remarkable work of art.
The first stage was to eradicate the woodworm and then to entrust the piece to our outstanding panel specialist for consolidation and structural repair. With one painstaking step after another he managed to re-align the badly traumatised panel. Very cleverly and with great skill, he placed a flexible strap on the back, which bridged the area destroyed by worm, uniting thereby one stable side of the panel with the other.
Having effectively resolved the very serious problem of instability within the structure of the panel, we were then able to set to work on conserving the frame. This altarpiece dates from the early period of the Renaissance when a frame and the panel upon which an artist executed a painting were carved from one solid piece of wood. In Italy poplar trees provided the most common source of material selected by artists of the day, whereas in the Low Countries, oak, preferably from the Baltic, was the wood of choice.
As frames are such a vital part of any work of art, especially when carved from the same block as the panel, we tend, for two reasons, to conserve them first. This approach helps bring the image itself into focus during conservation, like a gold adornment on a young neck. More practically and, more importantly, it makes sense, once the peripheral structural and gilding work has been completed, then to be able to devote one’s efforts fully to the painting itself.
Cautiously and carefully, we filled and strengthened the delicate panel and sought not to create a uniform surface but, rather, one that left the kiss of age intact. Therein lies more than one challenge: how to replace and prevent in future the considerable, historic, loss of pigment caused by pressure from the original knots in the wood of the poplar panel.
As the invasive retouching was removed, a rare and fine image shone through. An onlooker may now rejoice in the level of detail revealed, a tribute to this great artist who made the most of the influence of three remarkable masters, Fra Filippo Lippi (c.1406-1469), Andrea del Verrocchio (c.1435-1488), and Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494).
I am fortunate to work with outstanding colleagues whose combination of talent permits us to conserve works such as this altarpiece to the highest standard and to be able to offer bespoke solutions to the daily challenge of conservation of fine paintings, frames and other works of art.
I would like to express particular gratitude to Anna Mambrin, my remarkable Senior Conservator of Paintings, Richard Rosko, our specialist carver and gilder for his work on the frame, and finally, Fabio Mazzocchini, who worked miracles with the poplar panel, thus enabling us to work our magic.
Czech Still Life & Biedermeier Style Frame
A good and sensible frame should never detract from the quality of a painting. It should only enhance and compliment it.
This is a key principle which should always be followed when picking and choosing a frame for a work of art. Even during the eighteenth century, when extravagant baroque and rococo frames were triumphant, these rules continued to be followed.
This guiding principle was brought to mind during a recent project here in our studio. The painting in question was a busy still life attributed to the Czech artist Ernst Czernotzky (1869-1939), which arrived requiring attention to both canvas and frame.
A gentle and subtle cleaning revealed the rich colours of the artwork`s details. The strong colours of the sumptuous carpet and tapestries are particularly pleasing to the eye, especially now the picture`s yellowed varnish has been removed.
The still life had arrived in a quality historic Biedermeier style frame. Its subtle and low relief decoration is suited to the particularly busy subject matter which it surrounds. The frame`s graceful appearance only enhances the painter`s work and does nothing to compete with it.
Time and dust had caused the damage to significant areas of gilding and decoration. The corners of frames are particularly vulnerable due to pressures exerted on what are the weakest points of its structure.
As experts in framing, and using historic methods, we managed to sculpt replacement decoration by hand to replicate the surviving details in other corners. This time consuming and delicate work is sometimes the only way to ensure that the resulting finish is harmonious. Losses in the gilding too were replaced with fresh gold leaf and gently distressed to help preserve the frame`s historic patina.
These subtle details, so often and easily neglected, are essential for any successful display of artworks.
Studio of Rembrandt - King Uzziah
Over the past fourteen months we have conserved, reframed, researched and brokered the sale of a very fine painting on panel from the Studio of Rembrandt. As experts both in the conservation and in the research of oil paintings, there are few bigger names in the History of Art than Rembrandt.
This atmospheric oil on panel depicts the Old Testament King Uzziah and had been in the collection of our client`s family for at least the last one hundred years. The principal version of this picture is in the Duke of Devonshire`s collection at Chatsworth and has been with the Cavendish family since 1742. Rembrandt commanded a busy studio of assistants and students and the picture in our care appeared to have been completed in his studio under the supervision of the master himself. It is signed and dated 1641 (or 1644). Scientific analysis, including pigment and dendrochronology analysis, was undertaken and which confirmed that the support and materials were consistent with the period whilst the signature was contemporary with the completion of the work.
The picture`s appearance on its arrival at our studio was unprepossessing, the underlying image having been concealed by decades of dirty and yellowed varnish and overpaint whilst the panel itself sported an unsympathetic and low-quality gilded frame which probably dated from the Twentieth Century. Slow, painstaking and diligent cleaning of the picture uncovered the very fine brushwork and preserved impasto obscured by the dust and dirt of ages. These efforts also revealed the marvellous interplay of shadow and light, and the refined atmospheric effects Rembrandt had originally intended.
There are many aspects of the conservation and research which cannot be covered in a short article but, once the picture was conserved, our focus was on the creation of a new and fitting frame for this exceptional Seventeenth Century Dutch painting. Inspired by the ripple cut ebony frames so often employed during the Dutch Golden Age, we set to work to fashion one in our studio by combining high quality moulds especially sourced from overseas for the project. Once given a warm red bole as the ground, the resulting black ebony finish complements perfectly the shadow and flesh tones found in the painting. The result speaks for itself.
Historical research undertaken in conjunction with other Old Master specialists revealed the painting`s forgotten origins. Ownership before the Eighteenth Century is unproven but a faded inscription on the rear of the panel identifies it as the `Rembrandt` recorded as having been given to the Premier Valet de Chambre of the Dauphin of France, the son of Louis XV. The panel found its way in due course to new owners, after its sale in Paris in 1775, the last of which was British.
We are proud and delighted to share with you the meticulous and exacting effort which goes into revealing the true and rare quality of an Old Master painting from the studio of a the most highly-esteemed of all Dutch painters.
A very curious picture was brought to our studio by a client a few weeks ago. Purporting to be a copy after Nicholaes Maes`s painting of a Lady Dozing, the picture was mounted onto what seemed to be an old stretcher and bearing a thick layer of dirt on its surface. Having been asked to conduct a cleaning test, it soon became obvious that this was in fact a print, which had obviously been doctored to make it appear like an authentic oil on canvas. The difference in value between a print and a period copy requires little explanation.
It is clear that this picture was fabricated with the intention to deceive any well-meaning buyer. Determining exactly how recently the picture was made is extremely difficult, as the tracks of its creator have been incredibly well hidden. The reverse of the painting too, bearing some old scribbled text, was obviously concocted to reel in a buyer seeking some exciting backstory or forgotten provenance.
As is often the case, many pictures are very difficult to judge until examined in the flesh. As accredited conservators, with decades worth of experience, understanding such deceptive techniques is an essential part of our work.
The old saying CAVAET EMPTOR still rings true.
Portrait Conserved for the Foundling Museum's Exhibition
Two handsome grand manner portraits by Enoch Seeman came to the studio recently for conservation so that one of the portraits could then be included in the Foundling Museum's recent exhibition entitled Ladies of Quality & Distinction. On loan from a private collection, this painting was considered by the exhibition's curators to require sensitive conservation treatment before it could be put on display.
The portrait, attributed to the artist Enoch Seeman, depicts Frances, Countess of Winchilsea (c.1690-1745) in her baronial robes. The painting's enormous size, measuring nearly two metres tall, proved no problem for our highly skilled conservators here in the studio. Much of the work undertaken on the picture was the cleaning and removal of surface dirt, consolidating loose paint and sympathetically retouching areas of damage.
As expert conservators of historic frames, we also paid special attention in conserving the painting's highly ornate surround. This included strengthening the structural joints, which over time had loosened and weakened significantly. Once this was achieved, we stabilised the gesso ground and repaired loose plaster decoration and re-gilded damaged areas where necessary.
Once completed, the painting was installed amongst the many other fine pictures of the notable ladies involved with this important charitable institution throughout history. These included works by William Hogarth, Godfrey Kneller, John Vanderbank, Charles Phillips and Thomas Hudson.
Battle of Texel - A Colossal Maritime Conserved
Over the last nine months our studio has been busy conserving and restoring a powerful seventeenth century Dutch Marine. Measuring over one and a half metres tall, and nearly two and a half metres wide, this colossal painting arrived into our studio requiring attention.
Careful removal of the thick yellowed varnish uncovered areas of damage hidden by previous campaigns of restoration. Overzealous overpaint has now been removed revealing the artist's outstanding attention to detail. All other areas of damage have since seen seamlessly retouched, which has finally allowed the painting to appear as a coherent whole once more.
Needless to say, the painting arrived with no attribution and bearing a vague indication as to the precise scene of the battle. As marine specialists, we set about researching both spheres which could tell us more about the picture’s murky history. Comparison to other paintings of the period has confirmed the attribution of this picture to the Flemish marine painter Peter van de Velde (1634-1723/4). Other examples of his work, including those in the Rijksmuseum, exemplify the duskier colours the artist used in capturing tempestuous seas, alongside the precise brushwork in the details of the ships decoration and sailors caught in action. Our research also concluded that this is undoubtedly a depiction of the Battle of Texel (1673). The victorious Dutch Admiral Van Tromp’s flagship the Golden Lion, visible in the foreground, is depicted engaging with British vessels commanded by the notorious Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The English Ship Royal Prince, according to the historical accounts, can be seen on the far right having been separated from the rest of the fleet.
The before and after images make clear the vast amount of work that went into conserving this outstanding marine, the results of which have allowed this picture to visually set sail.
A Dutch Portrait Conserved and Reframed
2019 has been off to a busy start, with preparations for the upcoming BADA fair requiring a great deal of attention alongside our thriving studio.
One recently completed project, of which we were particularly proud, was the conservation and redisplay of a seventeenth century portrait attributed to the Dutch artist Gortzius Geldorp (1553-1618).
The picture had arrived in a nineteenth century lacklustre painted black frame accompanied by a thin gilded slip. To make the most of this relatively austere portrait, we decided to produce an outset Dutch ripple frame in our studio that would enhance the artist's original intentions. This was achieved using highly decorative ebony stained cut moulding.
Sensitive cleaning by our conservators had revealed the warm flesh tones in the sitter's face, details which were completely lost in the painting's previous setting. To achieve a greater unity between picture and frame, the moulding's undercoating of terracotta bole has been allowed to subtly shine through the black staining, which has enhanced the harmony of the picture greatly.
As specialist framers, with vast experience and knowledge of all eras and styles of the fine and decorative arts, we recognise how important and integral frames are in the presentation of paintings. The results speak for themselves.
G F Watts - Sir Galahad
As passionate admirers of the work of George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), in the summer we had the pleasure of conserving and restoring a fine picture belonging to the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey, which had recently been presented to them.
Sir Galahad, painted at around 1860-62, is the perfect evocation of the neo-medieval aesthetic that Watts so greatly admired. This small-scale version, perhaps a sketch for the larger canvases that exist in full length format at Harvard, Eton College and in a private collection, was produced under the influence of Burne Jones and Rossetti, with whom Watts had been travelling and working with during this period. Working in a style which came closest to the Pre-Raphaelites, this work is said to have taken inspiration from Tennyson’s poem of the very same subject.
Painted onto a very coarsely grained canvas, the picture entered our studio under a thick and discoloured varnish. Once carefully removed, the true vibrant colouring of the artist soon emerged from the murky shadows. The glistening gothic armour and majestic horse once again play an active part in the scene as Watts had intended.
The picture’s frame, entirely typical of the ‘Watts Frame’ style, required consolidation, cleaning and replacements of broken decoration. As is often the case, delicate details in gesso are susceptible to being snapped off and replaced with poorly executed work or simply painted over in gold to hide the damage. The result of this neglect detracted from the quality of the picture and required serious attention. Replacements were made by making a mould of surviving ornament and recasting in composition.
We are thrilled that the picture is once again on display in the Watts Gallery, in the artist’s former studio no less, surrounded by other celebrated works of this truly great Victorian painter.
CASE STUDY #10: THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD GOLD LEAF AND GESSO FRAME
This enchanting portrait came with a highly acidic oval slip and deadly frame. We conserved the image and reframed it using a carved gold leaf and gesso frame.
Painting on marble: Portrait of a Gentleman, thought to be John Ruskin (1819 - 1900) by Thomas Heathfield Carrick (1802 - 1874)
CASE STUDY #9: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A FRAME MAKES!
This vibrant watercolour and bodycolour came to the studio in an acidic mount and rotten frame. We conserved, remounted and reframed it in sympathy with the colouring of the paper, using our own unique design.
Watercolour: A Stork by Ceri Richards (1903-1971)
CASE STUDY #8: THE DIFFERENCE PAPER CONSERVATION, RE-MOUNTING AND RE-FRAMING CAN MAKE!
This enchanting long thin 18th Century watercolour was acquired framed in a highly acidic mount. We removed the acid from the paper, remounted it to compliment the colouring of the hand made paper which the artist had used, and reframed it, using gold leaf and gesso. The 'before' and 'after' images show the enormous difference tender conservation and reframing can make.
Watercolour: 'Ile Sainte-Marguerite', signed and inscribed as title by Dominic Serres, RA (1722 - 1793)
CASE STUDY #7: ACID & DAMP DAMAGE TO A WATERCOLOUR & PASTEL
This charming portrait arrived in a damp and damaged state. The whole picture had turned dark brown, stained by the acid in the backing boards and mount. Interspersed across the image were spots of damp and the colours had become distorted and inharmonious. The watercolour & Pastel needed to have all the acid cleaned away from the paper and during this process the pigment recovered its beautiful soft tones. The difference was startling for all to see and only emphasises how important it is to make sure that mounts and backing boards are acid free and, if possible, that the glass has a UV filter.
Painting: 19th Century watercolour, pastel and gouache (bodycolour) portrait, by John Hayter (1800-c.1891/5)
CASE STUDY #6: WATER DAMAGE TO AN OIL PAINTING
A house flood caused extensive damage to this beautiful portrait. The water totally dehydrated the oil paint causing extensive ‘blooming’ – where the pigment becomes white and ghost-like across the surface. In order to cure the damage, the painting had to be given a delicate clean before being lined urgently. The lining revived the pigment allowing the full density of colour to return once more.
Painting: Victorian Portrait of a Lady
CASE STUDY #5: BESPOKE FRAMING
A frame can enhance or detract from a painting. This charming portrait had long since lost its original frame and was presented to me in a recently made narrow timber frame that had no dignity whatsoever. The after photograph reveals a unique carved frame (5 ½” / 14 cm wide) with a high back edge extensively decorated with leaves and beading. The wide central plateau then moves towards the inner decorated edge and a simple slanted inner slip leads the eye into the portrait itself. This powerful work had to have a frame of equal majesty to give it back its dignity.
CASE STUDY #4: ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE TO AN OIL PAINTING
Works of art are very vulnerable when being transported and this particular work was damaged by a foot through the painting. The picture had to be cleaned to remove the varnish and any surface dirt and subsequently lined as the tear was so extensive. The lining reabsorbs the pigment and it gives the painting support behind the large area of damage. A fine filler is then placed in the seams where the pigment had been lost, it is then retouched to a minimum and varnished.
Painting: 19th Century English School, Landscape
CASE STUDY #3: CLEANING OF AN OIL PAINTING
This is a fine example of how a painting can respond when the surface dirt is removed with a light clean. It had been housed in an attic where damp had caused the pigment to ‘bloom’ resulting in large areas of opaque discolouration across the surface of the canvas. The painting had also been finished with a damar resin varnish which had become heavily discoloured with age. Once the stained varnish and engrained dirt had been delicately removed, the picture came to life with a superb depth of colour. The clothing revealed a lavish embroidery and the guards sparkled in their armour. The carpet at the feet of the Emperor, revealed its magnificent double headed eagle representing the power of both the church and state.
Painting: Frederick Wilhelm Martersteig (1814-1899) depicted Luther at Worms, in 1531.
CASE STUDY #2: RESTORATION AND CONSERVATION OF A FRAME
This exquisite 18th century frame is an excellent example of a frame that had suffered neglect resulting in all four corners being totally broken. The joints were taken apart, re-glued and repinned. To gain the best support, discrete wood backing plates were then pinned behind each corner. The surface of the gilding on both frames was cleaned, stabilised, and the central scroll along was repaired and rebuilt. Once all the minor chips and repair work had been undertaken, the frames were re-gilded and waxed. .
CASE STUDY #1: RESTORATION AND CONSERVATION OF AN OIL PAINTING
Similar to when skin has been too long in the sun, oil paint loses its flexibility and becomes tired and degraded over time. It then loses its adhesion to the canvas, lifts and sheds. When this happens it is vital that the painting is lined to reabsorb the pigment back into the canvas before more paint is lost. The before image demonstrates how the pigment has crystallised on the surface prior to extensive paint loss. The after image illustrates the lining with all the pigment reabsorbed back into the canvas. This crucial process allows the painting to regain its full density of colour by rejuvenating the painting to its original glory.
Painting: Chinese Oil Painting c1800
Seventeenth Century Marine in the Studio
Marines rarely come larger than this. Measuring in at around one and a half by two and a half meters, this late seventeenth century battle scene is currently undergoing treatment in our conservation studio. As is so often the case with such pictures, damages are found throughout the canvas and especially where the artist has had to make joins between sections of fabric. This picture was supported by an additional layer of canvas in the seventeenth century, so as to stabilise this enormous painting and was then subsequently lined again in the nineteenth century. Only when the thick layers of discoloured varnish are removed can one see the full extent of previous campaigns of restoration. Despite this, most of the fine details of the picture are well preserved. This includes the brilliantly detailed carvings on the various ships’ sterns, often precisely painted in a bright yellow to replicate exuberant gilding. So too are the details of the various figures who can be found engaging in hand to hand combat, firing guns or rowing small boats on the turbulent waves beneath.
As Marine Specialists, we are also undertaking research on the attribution and identification. It goes without saying that it arrived in our studio bearing neither. Fortunately, conservation has potentially revealed the artist’s monogram, along with other details that has helped to reveal the picture’s true identity.
Conserving pictures such as these present great difficulties, yet, nothing is more satisfying that witnessing them emerge once again from their former state.
A New Frame for a Modern Marine
At the beginning of Summer we had the opportunity of conserving and reframing a particularly fine painting by a well-known twentieth century second world war marine artist, whose work if represented at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The canvas arrived suffering from the usual ailments, including a particularly yellowed varnish and significant blistering within the pigment layers. It’s modern pine frame no longer complimented the artist’s light atmosphere and Canaletto-esque water, especially once its thick nicotine had been carefully removed.
Taking inspiration from the painter’s colour scheme, we set about constructing a bespoke frame that would elevate the artwork’s presence in its intended setting. This was achieved by increasing the frame’s size, incorporating elements of the older one, and giving it a mottled gilded finish. Layers of light ochre wash, enhanced with waxes, were applied to imbue it with a slightly distressed look, with shells added to the corners to provide a decorative maritime flourish. Finally, an inner slip embellished with 22 carat gold leaf was inserted to bring the picture, shimmering water and all, to life. The results can be seen below.
Follow the link below to read our Winter Newsletter. For the upcoming festive season we have compiled a special Christmas List of pictures that would make the perfect present for any discerning collector. Works include watercolours and drawings by the likes of Albert Goodwin, James Duffield Harding, Edward William Cooke and Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux.
During the autumn months we have been engaged in a considerable amount of conservation work for private clients, a few examples of which we wanted to share with you.
The first being a China Trade portrait of a sea captain’s wife, executed during the nineteenth century, which arrived in a badly degraded state, with a damaged frame. Our initial investigations always begin with a thorough examination under a strong UV light. As illustrated, the darker areas indicated that extensive re-touching had been applied to a great deal of the painting, possibly to hide previous damage. This is particularly noticeable in the darker areas, as these fugitive pigments can be extremely susceptible to overcleaning. Once these were removed during a sensitive and light clean, we proceeded with retouching and varnishing. The painting was once again partnered with its frame, which had also been stabilised, cleaned, repaired, re-gilded and waxed to enhance the overall visual appearance of the artwork.
Finally, we recently completed treatment on an extremely yellowed orientalist picture brought in by a private client. The old varnish, which had been generously applied to the board, had become so discoloured that it resembled tobacco stained honey. Delicate and careful cleaning tests revealed that our specially mixed varnish removers would not disturb the paint later, an important consideration, and thus we decided to go ahead with the complete picture. The transformation is breath-taking. Not only are the minute details of the architecture and stone now visible, but, the picture’s vibrant colours now once again play a part in the composition.
Conservation of an historic Vellum Scroll
We recently had the great pleasure of conserving a very fine illuminated velum scroll dating from the reign of George III. It arrived at our studio, tightly rolled, in its original decorated leather box. With our team of expert works on paper conservators, we first dry cleaned the velum to remove the superficial surface dirt. Next, the manuscript was carefully humidified and pressed to reduce the rolling, so that it could be both safely and handsomely displayed in a deep cut French fold mount. Japanese tissue paper was then attached at the edges to allow the document to be drummed to an acid free foam board.
As experts in frames, we then selected and made a bespoke gilded frame to reflect the document and wax seal’s extravagant design. It was chosen to compliment the private client’s existing Carlo Maratta frames, so that the document could be hung harmoniously alongside other related pieces of historic interest. Special UV glass was also fitted to ensure that the vibrant colouring will be protected from harmful and bleaching sun light.
The beautiful original eighteenth century box, decorated in stamped leather, was also consolidated and repaired. Original leatherwork was reattached to the box which had become detached.
Our studio has been tackling some rather diverse and varied artworks recently. From eighteenth century marines to twentieth century modern art, we have been busy both conserving and restoring paintings of all genres. In some cases, we have also been creating brand new bespoke frames for artworks in need of a visual lift.
The first work, an early nineteenth century Chinese picture of a Tea Party, presented a great challenge. Not only were the vibrant colours of the picture hidden by a thin yellowed varnish, but, large areas of open craquelure were distracting from the overall quality of the picture. This was particularly pronounced in the darker areas, where the bright ground visible through the craquelure produced a very jarring effect. This was reversed with very subtle and delicate retouching, using the point of the brush only, which has allowed the landscape and figures to sit alongside each other more sympathetically.
Secondly, a twentieth century African picture from the Congo came in for treatment a few months ago from a private client. Surprisingly, this work presented a much greater challenge than many of the older pictures that regularly arrive at our studio. Modern paints, mixed medias, matt varnish, applied in a bold manner and with monotone colouring, are more susceptible to damage and wear. They are also much more difficult to retouch, as modern paint can sometimes be more unforgiving than those produced centuries ago. As the canvas came to us without a frame we created a new one from scratch, taking inspiration from the picture itself. The result, as seen below, is extremely pleasing and has elevated the work considerably.