Restoring the Falaba painting

30 April 2015 by Sam

David Crombie with a painting on an easel with with patches of paint loss

Working on removing excess fill from the losses to bring the levels in line with the rest of the paint surface – there were a lot of big losses!

This is the last of a series following the conservation of the painting ‘Falaba’ by Gerald M Burn, to prepare it for display in the Lusitania: life, loss, legacy exhibition. In previous posts I have described the structural treatment, cleaning and lining of the painting.

Once the painting was safely re-stretched onto the wooden stretcher, the two main things left to do were to fill in the paint losses and then inpaint (or retouch) the losses to match the surrounding original paint. Filling was carried out with fine chalk mixed with a water soluble synthetic resin, giving a paste that could be applied the areas of paint loss – this was done with a small palette knife which helped to imitate some of the texture of the original paint.

Once this had dried out, the excess filler could be removed with small cotton wool swabs wetted with water. After that, I could adjust and improve the fill texture as necessary. Then came the exciting stage of re-varnishing the painting before starting all the retouching – the new varnish layer allowed all the colours to be seen as intended, and would help me to colour-match the damaged areas as accurately as possible.

painting on an easel with with patches of paint loss clearly visible

All the white fills where the paint had been lost have now been textured and retouching can start

The retouching of all the paint losses was carried out with dry powder pigments mixed in with the same synthetic resin I had used to re-varnish the picture. We don’t use ready made ‘paints’ as such, as it is easier to get a better colour match with adding different pigments to a mixture. This work took a long time, and once the damages had been disguised, the whole picture took on a very different appearance, with your attention no longer focussed on the losses – you could finally see the whole ship in all it’s splendour!

It was very rewarding to finish the treatment and see the painting go back into the newly made frame that had been constructed for it. Then of course it was transported from the paintings conservation studio over to the Maritime Museum and installed in the exhibition where it can be seen from now on!

visitors looking at the large ship painting

The finished painting ‘Falaba’ by Gerald M Burn is now on display © Pete Carr

  1. Carol Ann Hemfrey says:

    Absolutely gob-smacked when doing some research on a Lucitania victim from our Scottish village to find you have just restored a painting of the Falaba!! My grandfather survived its sinking in March 1915 and i’d love to know more about it

    • Ellie Moffat says:

      Hello Carol,

      Thanks for getting in touch, I’d be pleased to give you more information. I would also be interested to find out more about your grandfather also if you’d be happy to share his story. If you could email me at then we can communicate directly. I hope to hear from you soon.

      Best wishes,

      Ellie Moffat
      Curator of Maritime Community History

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