Unknown artist, English 19th Century, oil on canvas
1. On arrival: heavily damaged, several breaks in canvas, deteriorating attempts at previous restoration, darkened varnish
2. Flattened, discolored varnish and earlier restorations removed, damages patched
4. Inpainted, resurfaced
3.Paint losses filled
This painting of a naval battle between two 17th century ships painted in the 19th century had, itself, been through the wars. At some earlier time misguided efforts at cleaning had removed much of the original paint film. This unfortunate result was covered up by thick overpaint that had little relation to what the artist had originally done. The canvas support was very deformed, the paint film was extensively puckered and dented and there were several breaks in the canvas which had been clumsily patched with a strong glue that held them in place and created lumps that distorted the picture plane.
The restoration began by consolidating the front of the painting with a mulberry facing tissue. Next, the patches were removed from the back with scalpels, a delicate process because the glue was strong and the canvas extremely fragile. Then the deformities of the canvas were flattened on blotters with repeated applications of moisture and weights, and the holes and tears were bridged with mulberry tissue to hold them in place during lining.
The painting was cleaned and much of the poorly matched overpaint was dissolved and removed with solvents, as was the discolored varnish. When the overpaint was taken off, the original color could be seen in some places but in many areas there were only the faintest traces of what the artist’s colors had been.
A second linen canvas, larger than the original, was stretched, soaked, and restretched to remove any possibility of further expansion. Conservation wax was applied to the reverse side of the painting and to the lining canvas. Then the two were laminated together on a vacuum hot table. The heat of the table melted the wax, the pressure of the vacuum fused them together and energetic application of rollers extruded excess wax and air bubbles so the painting was tightly bonded to its new support. When cooled, the painting was restretched on a Lebron expansion stretcher and the tension adjusted with turnbuckles.
The next step was to fill the paint losses with gesso, screed them to level and, after a separating coat of acryloid B-67, inpaint them with pure ground pigments in a medium of B-67. This kind of paint has the advantage of not changing over time as oil paint does and is also easily reversible. The inpainting was done dot by dot with a small sable brush using seven power magnification under 500 watt bulbs so the colors could be precisely matched to the vestiges of the original that remained in some areas. The inpainting required to compensate for the previous attempts at restoration was, as can be imagined, long and arduous, but finally the image was reclaimed.
Sprayed coats of paraloid B-72, which is not affected by sunlight, completed the surface so the painting will remain in its restored condition for a long time and will be well protected from any future wars it may encounter.