Before and after: Princess Emilia of Saxony’s makeover

27 February 2017 by Felicity

Hans Krell’s Princess Emilia of Saxony, following conservation work

Princess Emilia of Saxony has recently enjoyed a makeover, courtesy of our conservation team! The painting by the German artist Hans Krell has been restored and cleaned by paintings conservator Rebecca Kench. In this post, Rebecca talks us through some key moments from the conservation process, as illustrated by the images in the slideshow:

1 – The painting came in for treatment because it needed structural work to realign and stabilize two splits.  The painting also had a very discoloured varnish that needed to be removed.

The first image shows the painting with a strong side (raking) light to highlight the warping.

2 – In the second image, we can see one of the old splits, which had become out of alignment and was moving a little.

3 – The splitting was largely caused by two batons which had been attached to the back of the painting some time after it was painted, and not by the artist. These had stopped the wood from expanding and contracting as it would naturally and caused splitting.

4 – The batons had to be removed to stabilise the splits and prevent them from increasing. The batons were removed by placing thin strips of metal either side of the baton to protect the panel and carefully sawing lines in the batons with a Japanese saw*.

5 – These small slices could be carefully prised off with a chisel leaving the original panel undamaged.  Fortunately there was also a layer of canvas between the panel and the baton placed there by another conservator which helped as extra protection for the panel.

6 – Once the batons and canvas were removed, the panel was free to move naturally.

The painting had its old yellowed varnish and overpaint removed.

7 – At this stage, the splits had to be glued back together.  This is done by putting props above and below the panel to realign the split as much as possible.  Careful pressure is needed at the top, bottom and sides.

8 – The panel was revarnished and any losses were retouched.  The panel will never be totally flat, but it is much better aligned now and will hopefully be safe to be enjoyed by visitors for many years!

The final image shows the painting after conservation.

You can see the painting in room 1 at the Walker Art Gallery, where it hangs between portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

*Japanese Saws are sometimes called ‘Japanese pull saws’ because they cut as the saw is drawn back, not when pushed forward, as with a standard carpenter’s saw that we know in the UK.  The main advantage is that the blade is much thinner, and can make finer cuts than a thicker saw.  They are also very light, and easy to control when cutting.  There are three broad types:  ‘Dozuki’ (with a back rib to the blade); ‘Ryoba’ (double sided thin blade, usually with different type teeth on each edge); and ‘Kataba’ (thin single sided blade).  The one we use is the ‘Kataba’ type and we have interchangeable blades to cut either across the grain of the wood, (cross-cut), or along the grain, (rip-cut).

  1. patrick says:

    how fascinating and what a great job. By ‘any losses were retouched’ does that mean to the paint or to the material onto which the image was painted?

    • Felicity says:

      Hi Patrick

      Thanks for your comment. It is an incredible transformation! I passed your question over to Rebecca. Here’s her reply:

      “By ‘any losses were retouched’, I mean areas of the original paint that had damages or losses – these might be filled with an inert filler if necessary to match the surface level, and then be retouched, or ‘inpainted’ locally to match the colours to the original surrounding paint. We use varnish and dry pigment mixed together to retouch with a very fine brush. This should be easily removable in the future without affecting the original paint layer.”

      Hope that answers your query!


  2. Andrew McCluskey says:

    Fabulous work Rebecca.

    Does NML have open days to allow people to visit the Conservation teams, view their work and learn more?
    I know that the Conservation Centre closed to the Public in 2010.


    • Felicity says:

      Hi Andrew

      It’s an amazing transformation, isn’t it? We have a hugely talented conservation team!

      At the moment, the only formally scheduled tours of the conservation studios are during our Members Weeks, and these are limited to National Museums Liverpool’s members at the moment. The next one of these is from 25 – 29 September 2017.



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