4

Repairing a 17th century canvas | Restoring Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait’


I’m Lynne Harrison, I’m one of the
painting conservators here at the National Gallery. I’m going to show you what
we’ve been doing with Artemisia since she’s come down to the
Lower Conservation Studio to do the structural work. So, on the table, this is the
‘Artemisia’ painting from the back and you see it at this stage: it’s
attached to a board for support and we’ve put some masking tape
around the edges to protect the painting because we’re going to work on the back and we don’t want anything from the back to creep under to the front and
scratch the front so it’s well protected. That’s the paint surfaces underneath. What we’ve been doing is removing the old lining, which Paul will talk to you about in a moment, this is the last piece of lining that’s
left on the back of the canvas and I’ll show you in a moment how this is coming off. Once this has been removed, we have to remove the remains of the old glue paste that was used to put the lining fabric onto the back of the painting and this is simply done by scraping
and, again, I’ll show you in a moment how I’m doing that. Once this is done, we will apply a new lining to support the painting, which will provide new edges,
and stretch it onto its new support and Paul – do you want to talk a bit about… Yeah I’m Paul Ackroyd from the Conservation department as well. We’re relining this, really, because the old lining, which is probably around about
one hundred and fifty years old, has degraded so badly that it’s no longer really supporting the picture. I mean, you can see from here,
this is a piece of the old lining canvas, it just tears, you know, just like that
really and the glue is very badly degraded so peeling this off is exceptionally simple. Not all glue paste linings come
off quite so easily as this. The other reason we’re lining it is
because there’s a tear which is here and that’s gone right through the
painting and the lining canvas. In order to repair that, we need to take the lining off and it has a number of other damages: it has some holes here which have gone all the way through the original paint and ground and canvas and along here, where the seam is. So, this is a piece of canvas here which has been sewn onto the other, bigger part of the picture so this is the bottom of the picture here and that’s the top. This seam has been cut off or cut away in the last lining; this would have been sewn together and there would have been a flap that came round here. So that’s been cut off and it’s probably not very well attached at the moment so we’ve probably got to do something to reinforce that as well. Well, I’ve removed this last piece of the old lining canvas and you can see there’s two more little holes here, which have been filled from the front. Now after that, we’ll scrape the rest of this old glue off of here and here, these darker patches, and then we will repair the tear and then do some repairs on these various holes. So here I’m scraping off the glue paste adhesive from the back of the painting. This is the old glue paste that was used to put a lining fabric on. It’s very brittle and hard but it comes away very easily from the original canvas which is what you can see here. Once that’s complete, we will repair the tear and these various holes in the canvas and then do a moisture flattening treatment on a vacuum table and then reline the picture, again with glue paste, a similar kind of adhesive to what we have here. This is because it’s a very good
adhesive for supporting quite major structural weaknesses like this join and tear and that is a very traditional method of relining that’s existed for 400 years or more. Most linings have a life expectancy of about 100-150 years and we hope that the lining that we put on will, at least, last 150 years or more. And then once that relining has been done then we will re-stretch it back on to its stretcher and then it will go back upstairs for the rest of the restoration.

Glenn Chapman

4 Comments

  1. YOU STILL AT THIS….
    DO YOU PRESERVE THE OLD LINING – FOR ANY REASON? I WOULD THINK IT SOMEWHAT OF A SHAME AND A LOSS OF HISTORY TO MERELY DISCARD IT… IN FACT, I WAS FRETTING THINKING ABOUT YOU CUTTING OFF THE LINING AND THROWING IT AWAY….

  2. What is it that deteriorates the canvs/lining in such away? Is it just because of atmospheric conditions and is their a way to preserve the canvas of your painting over a longer period of time?

  3. What was the paste glue used? Flour and water sort of thing? Rabbit skin? Was wax not used for relining 150 years ago?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *