This video is brought to you by expressvpn keeping you secure and anonymous online and helping you unlock, restricted content anywhere in the world, hey folks. So today i want to talk a little bit about what i see when i see a painting.
Now, obviously, i see the image – and this is a maritime scene painted by robert cleverley of the east indies, company ship, the alfred and it’s, shown in three perspectives, heading towards us side and then heading away from us.
But what i really see when i look at any painting are the issues that the painting has. So though this is a beautiful painting, i see all of the warts and i want to take you into that process and show you exactly what i’m.
Looking at so first off, we can see that the painting has a yellow and kind of dingy cast to it and that’s, because the old natural resin varnish has discolored over time, as is often the case with natural resins, when they come into Contact with ultraviolet light and oxygen now there’s, a light surface grime on this painting, too accumulated dust and dirt particulate smoke and soot, nothing very heavy, but it all contributes to making this painting look well kind of dingy.
Now, aside from it looking a little dingy, there are some significant structural issues with this painting and if we come close, i can start to show you those so right off the bat we can see the light reflecting and catching all of these little cracks throughout the Painting now this is where the paint film has actually broken opened up and that little gap is filled with dirt and grime, and that’s.
Why we see all of these little black cracks. In addition, the painting is wavy and bulgy. It catches the light and it looks kind of irregular and that’s, a symptom of poor stretching on the stretcher.
Now, in addition to all of that, we can see that there are some previous repairs on this painting and if we come close, we can start to spot them and it’s. Easy for me to spot these, because i look at paintings all day.
Long, but some people may not see them right away because they’re, just not attuned to looking at problems now. This one right here is really quite obvious. You can see the brushwork doesn’t match the surrounding sails.
The color is off and in fact you can still see the crack and the fill in. So i suspect there was a tear here that needed to be repaired. There are other areas of damage, one right here where the previous conservator tried to recreate these riggings and they’re a little bit blurry and a little sloppy that’s kind of obvious.
And then there are some other areas of in painting throughout the sky. These are a little harder to see without having looked at thousands upon thousands of paintings, but when we go and take a look at this painting under the blacklight, you’ll, see it much clearer now, in addition to there being some issues structurally, there’s, some old work that also is contributing to some of the problems with this painting.
So if we come and take a look at the edge of the painting where we’d, normally have the original tacking edge. We have what appears to be a sheet of fiberglass or nylon that was adhered to the edge. The original tacking edge is long gone, that’s, never going to be found, and it looks as if this painting was simply cut with a sharp knife.
We can see the edge at the top is really clean and undulating, which looks like a blade was taken across the top. This is not great, but it is not all that uncommon when paintings are removed from their tacking edges, for a blade to simply be used to separate those two but more concerning than this sloppy strip lining is the fact that this painting was already lined once now.
It’s really difficult to see here, because this is the original canvas. But if we come over down to this edge right here, you can see the lining, canvas and the original canvas, and you can see that they are of two different weaves, and so this little area tells us a lot about the structure of the painting.
We have the original canvas, the tacking edge has been sliced off, a lining, canvas has been added, and then this strip lining has been added to that and, of course, to cap it all off staples, because naturally, now i mentioned that i’m able To see a lot of this retouching, but it may be hard to see it on screen or again, if you haven’t looked at lots of paintings, but that’s, where black light or ultraviolet light is a really invaluable tool, because It enables the conservator to see old work and to see old, surface coatings now, while wearing protective glasses and exposing the painting to uv or black light.
Yes, the same black lights that we use in college for posters on our walls. We can start to see what we can’t with the naked eye, and so, as we come in here, the entire painting has a very yellow greenish, almost neon cast to it, and that’s.
All old varnish old varnish as it oxidizes and crosslinks, and changes on a molecular level, starts to fluoresce in this green way. Now we can also see all of these dark blotchy spots. As i mentioned, i could see that this was retouching and now i can confirm my suspicions.
All of this is retouching, and this was executed in oil paint and the reason i can tell that is because it has a very soft feathered edge as if somebody took a brush and just kind of painted in the areas that were damaged.
Why this was necessary or why somebody thought it was necessary? That is a big question and i hope to answer that later and as we go over here, we can see that this entire section was over painted now i don’t know what damage lies underneath here, but i would wager to say that whatever It is, there is no reason for this much overpaint to be added that’s, just simply unacceptable.
Back over to the sail, which we know was retouched. We can see that all of these dark lines fluoresce quite intensely with a dark black, almost purple, cast that’s. One way we can tell that that’s, retouching newer, pigments fluoresce, more than older pigments.
So if i were to put retouching on this painting now it would fluoresce more than this old retouching and as we continue throughout the rest of the painting, we can see just how much retouching there is, and this this isn’t the mark of A conservator: this is the mark of a painter.
This kind of loose feathered brushwork is nothing a conservator would ever do. This is an amateur now, on top of all of that, we can even see that there’s, another layer of older retouching. So if we look at this area in the sky, this amorphous shape that’s retouching, but it is of an older vintage than this retouching.
So when this was added, the person never thought to take this old retouching off. Maybe they couldn’t, maybe they didn’t even know it was there, and so this doesn’t fluoresce as much as this and this fluoresces more than this, which is the original.
So using a black light is not exactly a science. It’s more of a craft and an art because shining this painting with black light. One might just assume that this is natural to the painting, because it kind of looks natural, but with a trained eye and experience.
Reading the black light can start to tell us a lot about the painting that we can’t otherwise see with visible light. Now before we actually look at the surface grime and the old retouching. I want to take a look at the back of the painting, because there’s again more that we can learn aside from somebody being very industrious and using a ruler as a key.
I mean it’s, not exactly what i would do, but kudos on them for creativity. This stretcher looks suspiciously clean, and i noticed that because old wood oxidizes and this looks pretty fresh now – it could be that this is simply a new stretcher or, as my suspicions were confirmed, this stretcher has been flipped and this is actually the side onto which the Painting should be adhered and if we take a look with a straight edge, what we can see is from from here to here on each bar.
There’s, a bevel. This edge falls away from this edge, creating airflow and making sure that the canvas never touches this edge of the stretcher bar, and this is indicative of the side that the painting should be on.
So when this painting was last worked on, when they did this wonky strip lining with staples instead of putting the painting back on the stretcher as it should have been, they just flipped it and put it on the back.
It may be because they thought this side looked cleaner, and so it would make their work look better, but a that’s, not good for the painting b. It may conceal inscriptions labels or other writing that can help with the provenance of this painting.
Now i mentioned that this painting was dirty and, of course i can see that right off the bat. But if you don’t believe me, i’ll make a little test. Now it is cleaning up a little bit, but not that much, which leads me to believe that the varnish was applied on top of a painting that wasn’t fully cleaned to leave a painting dirty and then to apply a varnish atop.
It not only compromises that varnish; it makes it more difficult to remove so that’ll, be something that i’ll have to investigate a little bit further, and now, when i mentioned this whole area was overpainted.
Well, i want to show you what that looks like, so you can see this solvent is taking off not only the varnish, but also all of that old overpaint, and this is oil paint that was added at a later date to cover something up.
I don’t know if it was a tear or a hole or if it was some big abrasions, but somebody thought the best way to deal with. It was well just to repaint half of the sky, and i guess i wouldn’t, be so flummoxed if they’re color matching and brushwork had been in accord with the original.
That is if it was executed in a way that really did blend in. I suppose there could be a rational argument for it being considered okay, but, as you can clearly see, this isn’t even the same color as the original painting.
So not only did they do a lousy job in treating the painting they couldn’t even match the right color. So, while this painting has a lot of issues, none of those are fatal. They can all be addressed from the surface grime to the old varnish, the old over painting, the flipped stretcher and even removing the strip lining and the old lining that’s all well within our capacity and capability.
Now the question remains: will the client go for it? The ship in this painting, the alfred, was owned by the east, india, company and first set sail in 1772 as a cargo ship, but she was heavily armed with 26 guns because at that time, if you left port and went out on the high seas, you needed Protection there was all sorts of danger out there, including pirates, and even though it’s 230 years later, and you probably don’t need a well-armed gunship to keep you safe.
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com julian, to get three extra months free and get back to swashbuckling. Now the process of conserving the alfred begins with removing it from the stretcher. Now, normally, i would pull out all these staples and peel the canvas off of the stretcher.
But in this case, because this strip lining is absolute rubbish, i have no interest in saving it and in the name of expediency i’m just going to slice it directly off the canvas it’s a faster way to remove the Painting from the stretcher and later on, i’ll, go ahead and remove the excess strip lining and staples from that stretcher.
Now there was some sort of gummy gooey adhesive applied to the back of this lined canvas to facilitate the adhesion of the strip lining, and while i’m disappointed to see that some sort of nylon or fiberglass fabric was used, this adhesive is even More saddening, luckily i don’t need to save any of it, but i do need to remove it.
So i’m going to test it first with some solvents to see. If it reacts, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Fortunately, the application of heat does soften it enough that i can peel back that strip lining and using my iron on a very low setting.
I can warm this adhesive up and soften it and then just slowly work across the entire canvas to remove this strip lining, and i want to remove this strip lining because i think it may interfere with me removing the lining from the canvas.
In addition, it creates a bump or bulge when i clean the canvas, and i don’t want to press on that ridge and create a mark on the face of the painting. So all of this has to go, unfortunately, sometimes peeling back layers.
Slowly is just the name of the game, and in this case it starts with removing this wonky strip lining. Now, of course, a proper strip lining wouldn’t have been unnecessary here, because this lining canvas, doesn’t have a strip lining, but it just seems a little silly to add a strip lining to a lined canvas.
Why not? Just take off the lining and do it right from the get go well anyway, that’s. How i intend to do it now with all of that strip lining removed? I can start cleaning the painting and i’ve chosen to clean the painting first, so that i have a receptive surface for the facing the washi cozo.
That’s going to happen before i remove the lining now, for some unknown reason, i decided to wear a white shirt today, which is a cardinal sin in this studio, so my sleeves are going up because i want to make sure this shirt stays White, i’m, also wearing gloves, and these gloves are not for the painting’s protection.
This painting is 200 plus years old and doesn’t need protection from me. My hands aren’t going to damage it, but the solvents i’m. Using the solutions will damage my hands. They can cause irritation, they can hurt my skin and frankly, i don’t want that.
So i’m wearing gloves to keep myself protected from the painting and from the solvents. Now earlier on and before i even filmed the intro to this, i made a series of tests to determine what kind of surface grime and varnish was on this painting, and i discovered that there really wasn’t much surface crime at all.
In fact, almost none and that’s, really not uncommon. With a painting that’s been worked on in the past 20 or 30 years, provided it’s, been kept in a safe location, away from fireplaces cigarette smoke.
Kitchens and other inhospitable environments, but what this painting does have is a layer of slightly discolored varnish. Now you’ve. Seen me clean some profoundly dirty paintings. This is not one of them.
In fact, the varnish is just slightly yellow and it is giving a yellow cast to the whole painting, which is not exactly what we want, and so it has to come off for that reason. But it also has to come off because the presence of this varnish will interfere with the other procedures that i plan on doing to this painting.
I cannot subject this painting to moisture without potentially running the risk of creating a bloom in the varnish and that’s where the varnish starts to get cloudy or milky. I can also not subject this painting to heat without softening and melting that varnish and if that painting and that varnish is sandwiched in between a siliconized, mylar or pet film.
Well, it’s. Gon na get super smooth and slick and shiny, and that’s. Gon na be distracting and uneven. In order for me to do all of the procedures that i need to fully conserve this painting, i have to remove this varnish, even if it’s not as exciting as some of the other pieces.
I’ve cleaned cleaning, a painting that isn’t profoundly dirty is certainly less exciting than cleaning one that appears to have spent its life in the bottom of a coal mine surrounded by pipe smokers. But it is what it is and actually removing this yellow cast is going to have a pretty big difference on the sky.
It’s full of very delicate color shifts, and this varnish is just kind of flattening it all. Now, as i head into cleaning the ocean, i can start to see some of that retouching that i identified in the examination come off, and this looks like a glaze and the glaze is an application of a very thin, somewhat transparent paint, atop another layer of paint And in this case, i think the person who worked on this previously did so to either cover up some of these small cracks or to add some depth to the painting and that’s totally fine for the artist to do but totally verboten.
For a conservator that’s, just not something that we do and, as i turn my attention to the area with the signature, i have to take care because it’s. So faint. It looks as if, when this painting was worked on the last time, the person who did the work didn’t even notice the signature and just glazed right over it because it’s covered with overpaint, as i start to remove it.
The inscription starts to become clearer and that’s, obviously super important and also pretty exciting. With all of that overpaint gone, we can see our cleverly pinks 1772 with the signature, cleaned and all the varnish removed.
I can turn my attention to the overpainting when we did the examination under blacklight. The entirety of this sail fluoresced indicating that it was over painted. So i’m, applying a gelled solvent to this area, and this is a solvent that’s stronger than what i use to remove the varnish.
I’m, going to let it sit for a little bit and see what effect it has on that overpaint. As i remove it. I’m dismayed to see it has had almost no effect and that’s. Not all that uncommon with really old overpainting, i mean at a certain point, the over painting just becomes part of the painting.
So i’m, going to step away from that area and turn my attention to another: the entire right side of the sky. Fluoresced when we examined it and as i’m, removing that overpaint, i’m, actually happy to find that there isn’t a lot of damage.
Really all there is is this tiny area that needs retouching, and this is a situation that’s, not all that uncommon for people who don’t have experience working on paintings or who aren’t comfortable with the retouching Process what starts off as a half inch square that needs retouching, soon turns into a full inch square, then 3 inches square, then 6 inches, then 9, then 12 and then half of the sky has been glazed in because well it’s.
A slippery slope and it got away from them, but this isn’t how we like things to be done, and by removing it we can execute the retouching properly. Another area of retouching was this front rigging, and i’m disappointed that this was so heavy-handed and ham-fisted, because this is really delicate work by the artist and it’s detailed and it’s going to be hard to Replicate so i removed the majority of the low-hanging fruit with solvent, but there is still a lot left on the painting.
So i’m, going to switch from solvent to scalpel and i’m using a brand new sharp blade and i’m just gliding over the surface. I’m, not trying to dig anything up or gouge. The surface of the painting i’m, just letting the weight of the blade and the scalpel in my hand, chip up and chip off this old overpaint, and i’m doing it here, because i really want to get this area as Clean as possible back to the original, we can even see that some of the original rigging is still there and it was just covered with the overpaint and that’s totally unacceptable.
Not only should it not be there, but by removing it it will mean less retouching. For me, other areas that will need this scraping treatment are in the sky, and i ‘ Ve decided to scrape them off as opposed to just retouching over them, because this painting will go to auction and it will be examined under black light.
And so one solution for these tough areas where the overpaint doesn’t come off. Easy is just to retouch over them to reintegrate them into the painting that’s totally okay. But i have found in many years of doing this, that the presence of retouching is problematic for many buyers.
They see something fluoresce and they get really nervous. So by scraping i can minimize the amount of retouching that i have to do now to the fridge for a little break i mean glue before i can apply the washi cozo.
I have to prepare the glue and i keep the glue in the refrigerator so that it doesn’t rot and that it is easier to reconstitute, because, of course, this is a fish gelatin and if i leave it out well, it’S going to develop mold, i’ve heated up the water, and i’m, adding these little sheets of fish gelatin and once the water is warm, i can dissolve them in water, and now i have an adhesive it.
Doesn’t smell great, but it’s, not terribly terribly gross. This is food grade fish gelatin. So it appears in all sorts of things that you probably aren’t, aware of and it’s used in restaurants all over the world.
I’m using a lightweight cozo paper. Here i’m, not using the heavy duty stuff because well i have a sneaking suspicion that this lining is going to come off easy. I hope so. I’m, going to paint on the adhesive all over the surface of the painting, and then i’m, going to set the washi cozo into that adhesive and bond it to the surface of the painting.
And this really is mostly just a protective measure, a little insurance in case the removal of the lining, isn’t easy and to keep the painting protected an old print making technique. I remember is going from corner to opposite corner and laying the paper down that way you can avoid air bubbles and wrinkles.
Now, once this paper is on the painting, i still have to go over it again with the fish gelatin to make sure that it’s really well bonded there’s, really no purpose. If it doesn’t have good grip on the painting.
Now this is a large painting. So this takes a little bit of time and as i go, the kozo expands a little bit. So i have to work out the air bubbles and i work them from the center out because it’s, a lot easier than trying to work them out when they’re trapped in the middle of a piece of paper.
And i have experimented with different techniques of applying cozo paper using a roller or using a spray system, but ultimately just a cheap, old bristle brush gets the job done and is the most effective way at applying this adhesive.
I wish there was a faster way, but you know i’m, not looking to break any speed records here. So if it takes a lot of time, so be it now, with the fish gelatin dry and the washi cozo well adhered to the face of the painting, i can turn my attention to the lining and begin to consider removing it because well we want it gone.
I’m gonna grab a couple of tools: a scalpel, a couple of palette, knives things that i have used in the past to remove linings and start exploring. Now. I know from my earlier examination and some tests that i made that this is a water soluble adhesive it melts when warm water is applied.
That leads me to believe that it is probably rabbit skin glue, rabbit, skin glue or rsg is historically the most commonly used. Adhesive in painting, preparation and conservation now the good thing about rabbit skin glue is that it fails, which sounds silly because we don’t want adhesives to fail generally, but because this fails, it makes its removal that much easier peeling back.
This canvas from the original canvas is a little bit trickier where the strip lining adhesive was because it’s penetrated through the canvas and grabbed onto that rabbit, skin glue layer, but luckily that rabbit skin glue layer has deteriorated over many years of expansion And contraction, and so with just a little bit of tension a little bit of force, it yields and it looks like the removal of this lining – canvas.
Well, it’s, gonna be fairly straightforward, and for that i am grateful, because this is a pretty big painting and while it’s just part of the job, i wasn’t necessarily looking forward to shaving this down.
Centimeter by centimeter now i said that it just takes a little bit of force and so using a large flat palette knife. I can run in between the lining, canvas and the original canvas and just break that rabbit skin glue bond and once it’s broken the lining, canvas just yields and comes right off, though it is coming off easily.
I still have to take great care because i am running a fairly flat dull blade against the original canvas, and the last thing i want to do is cut it nick it or damage it in any way. There is some irony in that this technique is akin to skinning an animal, but well that’s a whole other topic and, as i reach the end and pull back, this canvas just making sure that there’s.
Nothing attached to the edge of the painting. I can breathe a sigh of relief and turn to the not so easy task of removing all of the rabbit skin glue from the original. There are many ways to remove old adhesive from a canvas it can be done.
Dry and mechanically, with scalpels and chisels and tools or it can be, done, wet with solvent, and in this case i’m. Doing a wet removal and the solvent i’m using is water, but it’s, not plain water.
It’s gelled. I’ve added a synthetic clay to gel this water so that it’s a little bit more controllable. You see if i were to just saturate the entire canvas with water. Well, all heck would break loose and the painting would start to distort as the water evaporated and it would be a real big mess.
So i’m going to work in small sections. I’m going to apply this gelled water. Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes and swell the rabbit skin glue, that is, the water is going to transfer from the gel into the rabbit skin glue, but not into the canvas.
Then, once it’s soft, i can take my scalpel and simply scrape it off of the canvas. This is definitely one of those cases where i’m wearing gloves because of the gross factor there’s, nothing pleasant about getting rabbit skin glue all over your hands.
Now, once i’ve removed a section, i take a piece of blotter paper and a weight to transfer any residual moisture that may be there into the blotter paper so that the canvas doesn’t distort at all, and then it’s just repeat: apply the solution, scrape off the glue press, the area move on to another section and again and again and again – and there is a lot of square footage here – i would say all together, i spent probably six hours scraping this painting working In small sections, a little bit by little bit and slowly accumulating a very impressive if disgusting, pile of rabbit skin glue and once i come to the end, i am very relieved because, unlike the fish gelatin, this rabbit skin glue does kind of stink and it kind Of gets everywhere and it’s just really gross.
Now, with all of that glue removed. Well, i can start to remove the facing and i have to remove the facing now because, if i leave it on, it complicates the next procedure that i’m going to do you see the painting does have some distortions, some waves and ripples from The previous lining and from handling over the years – and i want to get rid of those the way i get rid of those is by introducing moisture heat and pressure to the canvas.
But if i do so, while there is a layer of moisture, sensitive adhesive, the fish gelatin and this washi cozo on the painting, well, it’s, going to reactivate that fish, gelatin and re-bond it to the face of the painting which doesn’t really sound like a problem, but under pressure and heat it will be almost impossible to remove later on.
Ask me how i know: no really don’t, so warm water painted onto the surface of the washi cozo allows the fish gelatin to absorb that water and soften up, and then i can start to peel back and scrape off all of this paper.
In a perfect world, all of this paper would come off in one fell swoop in one big sheet, but unfortunately it’s, never a perfect world here at baumgartner restoration. Why would anything be easy? So this paper starts to disintegrate and leaves lots of little fuzzies behind, and so i have to use a palette knife to encourage it up, and i have to use cotton balls to remove some of that adhesive.
I guess one of the good things is that it shows just how good of a bond that fish, gelatin and washi cozo has, on the surface of the painting, reinforcing that it really was protecting the painting and holding it together.
Even though it’s kind of a pain to remove, i’m satisfied and happy that the procedure that i executed before was successful kind of a double-edged sword. I suppose, if it wasn’t successful. It’d, be easy to remove, but it would be bad that it wasn’t successful, but good that it was easy to remove but bad that you get.
What i’m saying and as i glide the palette knife over the surface of the painting, the edge collects all the little remnants of washi cozo and keeps it blunt. So it’s, not really scratching or scraping the painting.
Now one last thing i will do is take a shop towel with warm water and go over the entirety of the painting to remove any residue of fish gelatin that may be on there because well, i have to remove it.
Doesn’t belong there. Now the procedure to flatten the painting takes place at the hot table and i’m using my big 1.20. What i’m just kidding, i’m using the big hot table because it doesn’t fit on the small table.
It’s just a little too tight, and so once the painting is laid down. I can seal it underneath pet film with tape and create an airtight envelope, and the perimeter of the painting is wrapped in cotton webbing and that will be used to evacuate all of the air.
That’s trapped in this envelope and on the small vacuum table. There are holes in the aluminum surface that allow me to run the webbing and remove the air that way, but on this table i use through bag connectors there’s.
A bottom plate that goes underneath the pet film and a top plate that goes on the top and penetrates through, and what this does is allow me to pull out that air and not have to have holes in the surface of my hot table.
I can also position these anywhere, so i can control the extraction. Now i’ll turn the table on set the temperature and the pressure bring the painting up to temperature, let it cool and then well we’re all done.
Actually, no. We’re, not we’re just done with the first half the undoing, but we still have to put this painting back together, right, yeah, so stay tuned for episode 2 next week, and if you’re looking for more Baumgartner content to scratch that itch head over to patreon for exclusive epilogue videos on previous paintings, you