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Microscopically reweaving a 1907 painting | CONSERVATION STORIES


This is a self portrait by Paula Modersohn-Becker. It was painted in 1907. It’s in really, really good condition considering it’s age. She’s holding her hand over her belly
which is suggesting that she’s pregnant. The same year this was painted in 1907, she
gave birth to her daughter and subsequently died of complications from this pregnancy
and she was only 31 years old. But she made a lot of paintings in her short life and this is a very precious example
of one of her paintings. It’s actually on its original stretcher which is really rare. And you can see along the side the tacks that
she used to actually stretch the painting onto this stretcher. There are couple of little tears and holes
along the edges. These are very vulnerable areas. Typically when we repair holes or tears in
the canvas, we would be using a method that requires access from the front or the
back all of our traditional techniques but we really didn’t want to remove the canvas
from the stretcher since this is the original way the artist mounted it. So thinking about this problem
and just racking my brain, how do we fix this? How do we repair a tear that we don’t have
access to the back? We discovered from other colleagues in the
field the use of these itty bitty surgical sutures that are normally used for eye surgery. Because the needles are curved, we don’t actually
need access to the back of the work. So I’m working all from the front. Something I’ve developed specifically for
this project is adhering linen thread on to my eye surgery needles. And that’s something that took a lot of trial
and error to figure out how to actually get these to adhere. I just ran the thread, the tip of the thread,
through the adhesive. And then used two tiny insect needles to wrap
the frayed tiny ends of the linen thread around the needle microscopically and then let it dry and shaved down any excess adhesive or material that bulked up that end. So I’m just going to position the microscope
to be right over the tear I’m working on. And the first thing I like to do when I sit
down is just get my tools. No tools displayed on this tray were made
specifically for conservation. This is glue made from the swim bladder
of a sturgeon fish. We’ll be making some sturgeon glue pretty soon. We have a whole fridge full of bladder, so. What I’m going to do is apply a little of the sturgeon glue adhesive to the linen thread in order to stiffen it just a little, so that
it has a little bit more stability. The method of tear repair here involves actually
reweaving the little canvas threads back into the original woven pattern in order to basically microscopically darn a hole in a canvas. You know, we sort of have to count as you
go to make sure you’re doing the right stitch. You really don’t want to have a lot of coffee
before doing this or be nervous in any way. I think what really helps is just not getting
frustrated at all with yourself. It’s a lot of practice and trial and error. There’s gonna be two bigger holes that I’m
gonna repair, and then that corner, which is a really large loss is gonna be repaired
with a slightly different technique. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and then a weave
pattern will just be there. That’s when I realize I should probably take
a break. So, I’m just gonna look through this box of old canvas scraps that we’ve just collected here through the years just to find the perfect match for a little insert I’m gonna make for the corner of the painting. What I’m going to be doing now is cutting a little insert out so that I can just fit it where the canvas is torn. There was also this large gap at the miter of the wood stretcher, I decided just to make a little wood insert for that area in order to have something behind the canvas to add some structural stability there. Another interesting part of this project is I X-rayed the painting, which can tell us a lot about how the artist painted and
the construction of the work. Something really interesting is that she did
make some changes. She used to be wearing a collar, and there’s also something above her head, it’s really, really faint. It almost looks like maybe she had a hat on, maybe not. Maybe if you flip it upside down
it used to be a fruit bowl. It was a still life, and she flipped it
and painted her self-portrait. We don’t know, it’s really hard to see, but
it’s a pretty interesting find. So, I have a very thick and sturdy piece of
mylar, clear mylar, so I can see what I’m doing, and then I’m gonna take a fine tip sharpie and put very light pressure onto the mylar and just trace. So, I’ve cut it a little bit bigger than it has to be so, I’m just gonna see how this fits. I might have to cut it a little more still, but it’s getting pretty good. So then once the piece is fit perfectly in
place, I will take my little needle and thread and I’ll just stitch it in and once the insert is sown into place I might
do a little bit of retouching using maybe really dilute water colors or something just
to tone the insert a little bit to better match. And then I’ll do a final check, and then it’ll go back in its frame. I’m just about finished. There’s just a couple really like microscopic
losses I’ll just dab and then just sort of integrate this fill insert just a little bit more. So now I’m just sort of blending the color,
just toning just on the new piece of canvas. And then, of course, it’s upright on an easel now that it’s all secure and it seems to be pretty happy. This painting was acquired in 2017 and we’ve
basically been thinking about this project since it first came into the studio. It was definitely almost six months to a year
of just sort of looking and thinking and figuring out this new method for repairing
the holes without having to remove it from the stretcher. And then the actual treatment maybe
took a month to complete.

Glenn Chapman

100 Comments

  1. Is there any particular reason why you can't use a synthetic glue instead of an animal based one?

  2. Very nicely done, but would have been happier with a longer video, showing more of the actual restoration technique, and closeups of before and after, rather than showing just the entire painting.

  3. I know art is subjective…..but c'mon now, there has to be some sort of standard. Just because it's old doesn't mean it's good.

  4. 7:49 spending all that time meticulously repairing the painting and then just taping the side? Seems a bit weird

  5. I wonder how the original artist would feel knowing that someone is painstakingly preserving their art…

  6. Absolutely marvelous precious work she is doing with the conservation of these fine art pieces. Bless her!

  7. They didn't show the part where she cut the sturgeon fish and took the oil from its bladder.

  8. You should ask Ethicon to create some linen suture for you, it would save you some time. Alternatively, you could use a suture other than GoreTex if you had trouble getting the linen to stick to it (that’s the point of Teflon) – silk, polypropylene, polyester all would probably be more “sticky”. Also, rather than tweezers, try using a proper pair of Castroviejo or Jacobson needle holders.

  9. I am surprised that they kept the old and obviously rusty tacks. That cannot be good for the canvas.

  10. From my point of view it looked like they were doing surgery on honey comb so I went straight to the video without thinking and I’m disappointed 😢

  11. Maybe a lot of artists would appreciate their artwork being taken care of. Personally, I'd be a little pissed if someone added to my work because…it would no longer be only the original. It would be getting taken over by a different influence. At what point do you stop touching up on it? If it's always getting patched and getting watercolours to blend and the wooden frame gets replaced by bits of wood, eventually it'll only be patches and touch ups and wood cut from a different tree, but people would praise it as my original art even though nothing of it would've been mine but the image. All things must come to an end. There is art in finality. And the attempted preservation of an artists work only devalues it. It's noble to keep the work protected and to want it to look in good condition, but nothing lasts forever. We shouldn't try to make these paintings outlive their lives through playing Dr. Frankenstein with it. No offense to The Museum of Modern Art and this passionate, caring lady is intended. This is just my personal philosophy.

  12. Crazy cool. I don't know how people do this. I'd shoot myself trying to do this kind of work. Seems daunting.

  13. microscopes focus to your eye so a user doesn't need glasses… Let's you get closer to the eyepieces, gives a better view, and is way more comfortable.

  14. Anyone thinking she should be provided way more sophisticated tools: Welcome to the Art World

  15. Do you write Chinese? You are (or she is) holding her pens and brushes like Chinese brushes.

  16. @UC9CswYtb5rL31CHwyVoyJvQ, interesting docu, i like it, it shows the meticulous job you are doing. top notch, congrats. this avelino from ytc KING COKE AQUA .

  17. oh my gosh art preservation is my dream job right next to paleontology/archaeology aaaaa

  18. Honestly looks like a struggle lol. I had to go through a micro solder school and I can tell u doing anything under a microscope can be so frustrating.

  19. isn't it more easy for everyone, once a piece is renovated to wrap it with a very thin clear mate pastic film like with air suction then have it like this so nothing much can destroy the painting

  20. First time running into someone that's that's not Baumgartner Restoration. This is interesting

  21. Can someone please tell me what the name of this job would be??? I love art and would like to look into something like this

  22. Wonderful! More videos like this please, even more detailed in the procedure. I could watch weaving on an old canvas for a full hour and still be left wanting more!

  23. I have an archaeology degree, an art history degree, and medical science degree but no art experience so no portfolio…but I wonder how good your technique needs to be to conserve different things…. anyway, this made me happy.

  24. I love how they have respect to the art, and how she appreciate the art itself :))

  25. Lmao I used play darts so much that when I closed my eyes I can see the board …

  26. And you can see on the back the many people that worked on it. it looks like to me it’s been took it off that Frame before

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