A Portrait with a Problem

Before Treatment - Portrait of a Man, Unknown Artist, Oil on Canvas 21” x 17”

This portrait was one of a series of artworks brought to The Center after a destructive home fire. The painting showed signs of severe fire-related damage: the ordeal left a heavy, dark layer of oily and acidic soot on the surface, obscuring the painted surface completely. Additionally, the stretcher had been charred, and undulations were present throughout the canvas. First, the surface was cleaned of grime and soot using appropriate aqueous solutions, which substantially renewed the visage of the painted subject. To complete the visual revitalization, the conservator removed the damaged varnish layer as well.  Then, the issue of the painting’s structural instability and canvas deformations was addressed: the canvas was removed from the stretcher, flattened, adhered to a new canvas lining for structural support, and then stretched to a new, custom-built stretcher. After this physical reworking, a synthetic varnish was applied to the surface to maintain the quality of the original painting, and inpainting was carried out to lessen the distracting losses. A final spray varnish was applied, finishing the extensive conservation process.  In the end, the striking visual damage was remedied with less effort than needed to be taken to refurbish the painting’s physical, but more hidden, damage.