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Paintings Conservation

Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.

Jack Bush, Sea Deep

Sea Deep, 1965, oil on canvas, 223.4 x 145 cm. MMFA, purchase, grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and gift of Elca, Jonas and Mark London. Before treatment

1a - Sea Deep, 1965, oil on canvas, 223.4 x 145 cm. MMFA, purchase, grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and gift of Elca, Jonas and Mark London. Before treatment

The impact from an accident caused a large indentation in the canvas in the lower section of the composition.

1b - The impact from an accident caused a large indentation in the canvas in the lower section of the composition.

The severity of the indentation is more apparent when the painting is viewed in raking light.

1c - The severity of the indentation is more apparent when the painting is viewed in raking light.

In the region of the impact, there were numerous areas of abraded paint and of black grime transferred to the canvas fibres.

1d - In the region of the impact, there were numerous areas of abraded paint and of black grime transferred to the canvas fibres.

Along the lower edge, in addition to paint abrasion and transfer of black grime, a section of the wooden stretcher was compressed and dented.

1e - Along the lower edge, in addition to paint abrasion and transfer of black grime, a section of the wooden stretcher was compressed and dented.

Screwed to the back of the stretcher, a semi-rigid backing board had prevented more serious damage from occurring during the accident, such as a perforation. In the lower left corner, the fluted plastic board was deformed in the area of strongest impact.

2a - Screwed to the back of the stretcher, a semi-rigid backing board had prevented more serious damage from occurring during the accident, such as a perforation. In the lower left corner, the fluted plastic board was deformed in the area of strongest impact.

The extent of canvas deformation in the lower left corner is visible in raking light, with the lower half of the backing board removed. The canvas fibres had been stretched but had not ruptured.

2b - The extent of canvas deformation in the lower left corner is visible in raking light, with the lower half of the backing board removed. The canvas fibres had been stretched but had not ruptured.

After releasing the canvas from its stretcher, bands of polyester fabric were adhered to the flattened tacking margins of the painting, allowing it to be secured to a temporary loom.

3a - After releasing the canvas from its stretcher, bands of polyester fabric were adhered to the flattened tacking margins of the painting, allowing it to be secured to a temporary loom.

The canvas deformations were removed using a combination of constant, adjustable tension, controlled moisture transfer and drying under weights.

3b - The canvas deformations were removed using a combination of constant, adjustable tension, controlled moisture transfer and drying under weights.

Prior to restretching the flattened painting (right), the original stretcher (left) was cleaned and repaired and covered with a polyester fabric (dry lining) to provide additional support to the painting.

4 - Prior to restretching the flattened painting (right), the original stretcher (left) was cleaned and repaired and covered with a polyester fabric (dry lining) to provide additional support to the painting.

The ingrained black grime was removed mechanically. Working with a microscope, every flake of grime was carefully extracted with the tip of a scalpel.

5 - The ingrained black grime was removed mechanically. Working with a microscope, every flake of grime was carefully extracted with the tip of a scalpel.

During inpainting, very small dots of colour were added to the areas of paint loss in order to recreate the colour and saturation of the original paint washes. Watercolour paint was chosen, as it is a relatively reversible option that effectively imitates the look of diluted oil paint (compare with 1b).

6a - During inpainting, very small dots of colour were added to the areas of paint loss in order to recreate the colour and saturation of the original paint washes. Watercolour paint was chosen, as it is a relatively reversible option that effectively imitates the look of diluted oil paint (compare with 1b).

After inpainting (compare with 1d)

6b - After inpainting (compare with 1d)

After inpainting (compare with 1e)

6c - After inpainting (compare with 1e)

This photo taken in raking light dramatically reveals the severity of the canvas deformation prior to treatment.

This photo taken in raking light dramatically reveals the severity of the canvas deformation prior to treatment.

Taken in raking light after treatment, this photo shows the painting newly taut and free of deformations.

7b - Taken in raking light after treatment, this photo shows the painting newly taut and free of deformations.

After treatment. Photo taken in normal light.

7c - After treatment. Photo taken in normal light.

This large-scale abstract painting by Jack Bush, one of Canada’s most acclaimed Colour-field artists, was created one year after he participated in the landmark exhibition Post-painterly Abstraction organized in 1964 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Bush was a founding member of the Painters Eleven, who in the early 1950s introduced Abstract painting to the mainstream of Canadian art.

Sea Deep was created by applying very dilute oil paint onto unprimed cotton canvas. The thin paint washes reveal the artist’s gestural brushwork as well as the texture of the raw canvas.

In 2016, the painting was moved to the conservation laboratory, following an accident in the gallery where it was displayed. An impact caused a large indentation in the canvas, abraded its delicate paint surface and left ingrained dirt. In addition, the original stretcher sustained structural damage. The painting required a complex and skilful restoration treatment.

First, the painting was released from its stretcher, and deformations were flattened under tension, using a combination of controlled moisture and drying under weights. The work was then restretched onto the repaired stretcher over a polyester dry lining for added support. Next, working under a microscope, the embedded dirt was carefully dislodged from the fibres of the canvas. Finally, to reintegrate and camouflage the damaged areas, dots of watercolour were added to areas of paint loss in order to recreate the original colour and density of the paint film.

This masterpiece can now return to its prominent place in the Museum’s galleries.

Emanuel de Witte: Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal

Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.

Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.

Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Emanuel de Witte, Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal, about 1660-1667, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 109.7 cm. Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund. This work has been restored thanks to funding from BNP Paribas (Canada) and BNP Paribas Foundation.
Restored thanks to the generous support of the BNP Paribas Foundation and BNP Paribas Canada

De Witte is one of the most renowned Dutch painters of interior scenes. His paintings, punctuated with depictions of everyday life, are characterized by an impressive technique featuring carefully created perspectival effects and an always-meticulous rendering of the quality and effect of light.

The goal of the treatment was to correct previous restoration work, notably by removing a thick layer of synthetic varnish that had become opaque, relining the painting with stable materials, and replacing the canvas inserts that had been placed on areas where the original support had been punctured.

The work was first sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa for a comprehensive technical analysis, which identified the materials used and the way in which the paint was layered, as well as confirmed the presence of the original coloured glazes.

A new frame, created by John Davies Framing Ltd of London, now adorns the work. A reproduction of a seventeenth-century Dutch frame, it has a more elaborate design but is in the same auricular style as that of the mirror depicted above the young woman in the painting.

Le tableau rescapé - Emanuel de Witte à l'atelier de restauration

A few examples of works restored for the opening of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace:

The Conservation Department section on this site is funded by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec as part of the implementation of Measure 41 of Quebec’s Digital Culture Plan and by the Ville de Montréal under the Entente sur le développement culturel de Montréal.

Ville de Montréal
Gouvernement du Québec
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