This page is dedicated to all recent goings-on here in our studio and further afield.
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.
Restoration of a Seventeenth Century Portrait
Having arrived with various tears, losses and a dried out varnish, we set about conserving the picture with the utmost care and consideration. Although the damage was quite considerable in parts, it was clear that good quality paint work was still evident in much of the face and drapery. The painting was relined and given a delicate clean to remove old and discoloured varnished. Once this had been completed, the true quality of the picture was exposed for the first time in decades. Amongst the many fine details revealed during cleaning was the brilliantly painted feigned oval composed of a laurel wreath in monochrome paint, a device often employed by the likes of Mary Beale.
After careful varnishing and retouching, we provided a new ebony style frame to compliment the character and period of the picture.
Please follow the link below to access our September Newsletter. Our picture of the month, which is accompanied by a brief summary, is a stunning drawing by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) entitled Men at Break.
We've recently uploaded a short video showing the exciting process of removing yellowed varnish mixed with decades worth of dirt and grime. Click on the link above to view.
Restoration of oils by Thomas Butterworth
This August we had the pleasure of bringing two maritime paintings by Thomas Butterworth (1768-1842) back to life. Buttersworth began his career as a seaman painter before he was invalided in 1800. Some of his most successful works, apart from his oils, are the large number of watercolours by the artist preserved in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The two oils on canvas were brought in for treatment from a private collection. Much faded from yellowed and dulled varnish, and considerably over-painted; these two naval scenes showed signs of great promise once small windows of the paint layer had been exposed during cleaning tests. After the complete removal of the varnish layers, areas of damage were stabilised and prepared for careful retouching. As illustrated, one of the pictures was missing a large section of sky and needed complete reconstruction. Ensuring a harmonious reading of the painting, especially considering such a significant loss, is always the primary consideration of any approach to careful and considerate restoration. Replicating the smooth modulations of sky and clouds is a true test of the ability of the conservator. Minor and more simple losses could be found around the stretcher lines, often resulting from a slack canvas being allowed to move far too freely in its frame. Once given a new coat of varnish, the colours including the blues, reds and yellows became saturated and play their part in achieving the original intentions of the artist. The same effect can be observed when dipping a pebble into the ocean, varnish acts as the film to allow the colour to achieve its full depth and brilliance.
Finally, but equally important, is the framing. Copies were made of a surviving frame, which had descended with one of the pictures, to ensure the paintings hung harmoniously together in their intended environment. An unsympathetic frame, which works against the artwork instead of for it, can produce the most jarring effect. It is for this reason that we believe so vehemently in a rounded approach towards fine art; its conservation, restoration and display.
Summer 2017 Newsletter
Please follow the link below for our Summer 2017 Newsletter. Included within is a brief piece focusing on our Picture of the Month A view of Lake Como by artist John 'Warwick' Smith.
Sati Scene c.1770-71 by Tilly Kettle (1735-1786) held in an outset cornered William Kent style frame made in the studio by Julia
Below this you can download a copy of the article that Julia wrote for the Art Framing Today trade magazine (August 2016 edition). Julia takes us on a journey through the golden age of frame-making in Europe, from the Mediaeval period to the 19th century. The frame is an essential part of a painting, and plays an important role that is often overlooked.
Conservation Of The Portrait Busts For The Royal Society of Musicians
While The Royal Society of Musicians is mid-way through a two-year project to refurbish its new offices, Julia restores eight of its busts of composers. Eight composers, Beethoven, Chopin, D'oyly Carte, Gounod, Handel, Haydn, Mellon and Parry, have had their busts conserved by Julia. An average of 50 hours' careful retouching, waxing and polishing has been lavished on each bust.
Conservation of two badly-damaged, oval 17th Century Baroque / ‘Kneller’ frames for the Charterhouse
As part of the long-term conservation programme currently under way at the Charterhouse, Sutton’s Hospital, Charterhouse Square, Julia’s studio has recently completed the conservation of two badly-damaged, oval 17th Century Baroque / ‘Kneller’ frames. Over the centuries the frames had so deteriorated as to threaten their very survival intact, as all four joints, top and bottom, had lost virtually all symmetry and cohesion. The original gilding had long since vanished and been replaced, many decades ago, with a layer of gold paint. Even this colour had almost disappeared, as the surface had become so dry and degraded that scraps of the original layers of material were falling away. The statutes of the Charterhouse, owing to its age as an eminent charitable foundation, do not permit it, regrettably, to spend any part whatsoever of its financial resources, on the conservation of its heritage collection, Julia, in recognition of these constraints, decided therefore to carry out, on a pro-bono basis, the urgent conservation of these frames to encourages others to support on a similar basis the urgent work needed to preserve the collection for the enjoyment of future generations. Shown below is some of the detail of the work involved in the conservation of the frames.