Portrait of Thomas Fox

Portrait of Thomas Fox, William Brockedon, (English, 1787-1854). 19th c., Oil on Canvas, 38.75 x 33.25 in.
Treatment by Associate Paintings Conservator Rob Datum

This painting arrived at the Center with a complex tear that radiated from the head of the figure. Additionally, the thin, smooth paint layer presented a challenge to restore without revealing textural evidence of the tear in critical light.

The first step is to clean the surface of grime and discolored varnish, as demonstrated by this in-process photo. As you can see from the comparison of right and left sides, the varnish had substantially yellowed.

Left: After cleaning, the canvas was removed from its stretcher and flattened on a low-pressure suction table. The tears were realigned and held in place, and then joined, thread by thread, with conservation adhesive and heat. The image is the verso of the painting, with the tears mended.

Right: The newly mended canvas was then lined to a piece of sized linen to offer additional support.

Now that the physical issues are resolved, the aesthetic problem left by the tears must be dealt with.  Here is the canvas after it had been re-stretched to its stretcher—the tears are realigned and structurally sound again, but still obvious.

The next step is to prepare the canvas for inpainting by filling the cracks between the paint layers. This compensates for the losses along the tears.

Finally, the painting was varnished to return the paint layer to the visual characteristics the artist intended with the original varnish: this coating, however, was a varnish that is easily removable and non-yellowing.  The cracks were then inpainted with paints that are soluble in relation to the original paint layer and also fluoresce under ultraviolet light. A final protective varnish was applied to even out the surface.