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.
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!
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