Consolidated, lined, cleaned, resurfaced
On arrival: varnish discolored and damaged by moisture
Edwin White, 19th C American, oil on canvas
The Salisbury Association
After Mr Michalski restored this painting it was discovered to be unique. An historian came to give a presentation on it and said that it was unknown for a servant to be depicted with her employer at that time—particularly a black servant. The subject of the portrait and the younger woman must have had a remarkably close relationship.
When it arrived, the painting had been damaged by several ill advised and unsuccessful attempts at cleaning, leaving the varnish with opaque white streaks over most of the surface. Misguided efforts to hide the results of these ministrations by overpainting with some sort of tarry black substance failed to effect an improvement.
An earlier lining to support the canvas was holding up well so there was no need to reline the painting. The challenge was to reverse the effects of these earlier failed attempts at restoration. Tests with solvents were ineffective at awakening or dissolving the thick layers of varnish so it was very carefully removed with scalpels. The areas of overpaint were treated similarly. When the painting was revealed, an area of damage was exposed that had been filled with black wax and white gesso. These were also removed by scraping.
The damages were then refilled with a mixture of rabbitskin glue and gesso and screeded to level with the surface, followed by a brush coat of acryloid B-67. After that the filling were inpainted with pure ground pigments in a medium of B-67 and xylene. The colors surrounding the fillings were matched exactly so the fillings became invisible. This medium does not change when it dries as oil paint does but remains indefinitely the same color as when it was applied.
Finally, sprayed coats of B-67 and paraloid B-72 completed the surface. These varnishes are not affected by ultra violet light so that this important historical artifact will remain in its restored condition for a long time.