Case Study
 

"Dutch Orphans Reunited"
           

Govaert Flinck "Group of Figures"
Before Treatment

           
           
           
Examination

March 25, 2009 to March 30, 2009
           
           

Description
           
A group of figures in an outdoor setting appear to be looking up at something beyond the right picture plane. Three of the figures are pointing while others seem to be shouting and gesticulating with raised arms. The figures are arranged in a semicircle with the figures in the background facing the viewer, the figures on the left in full profile, and the foreground figures in quarter profile. The darkened varnish has obscured the intended palette and compositional details. The painting is unsigned and undated.
           
           
Stretcher 
           
The support has been stretched onto a pine, H. 48" x W. 40" stretcher comprised of four outside members and three cross members, two of which are horizontal and one vertical. The outside members are 3 1/2" wide and 3/4" deep. The cross-members are 3 1/8" wide and 1/2" deep. The corner joins are a simple mortise-and-tenon design, Buck type 4a. (7) Six of the eight corner keys are present, while five of the six cross-member keys are in place. There are no cracks or reinforcements. The members are slightly warped. There are no stretcher labels or inscriptions.
           

Horizontal View of Stretcher
           
           
Support
           
The lined medium-weave linen support has twenty-eight threads per inch on both the warp and weft. The tacking edge has been removed from all four sides. The lack of distinct cusping of the edge threads reinforces the fact that the composition has been cut down. There are indications of previous holes and tears currently obscured by the surface film. The original canvas has been lined to a fine-weave, thirty-six-threads-per-inch secondary canvas support using an aqueous adhesive, now caramel in color. The lining has weakened over time, resulting in corner separations, interior waves, and canvas bulges. The lining fabric has been fastened to the stretcher using metal tacks. These tacks have a 3/8" diameter head and a four-faceted 1/2" shaft. There is only one set of tacking holes, which confirms that the painting has not been removed from the current stretcher.
           

Tacking Edge
           
           
Gesso
           
The thinly and evenly applied ground was probably white when first applied, but is now slightly discolored from oil staining. The gesso appears to be calcium carbonate and is well intact. There are no areas where the artist used the ground as a transitional tone within the painting.
           
           

Paint
           
The background areas have been painted using flat, smooth strokes offering seamless tonal transitions. This technique contrasts with the confident broader strokes used to create the clothes and headdresses of the foreground figures. The paint composition is pellicular in nature. (8) Isolated areas of impasto are present within the highlights of the clothes and in certain flesh areas now muted by the surface film. There are numerous areas of lifting paint and previous loss. Abrasions and several surface scratches are present.
           
           
Restoration Paint
           
Oil paint discolors and darkens as it ages. As a result, when used for inpainting, it becomes increasingly obvious and inconsistent over time with the tone it is supposed to match. The painting suffered from this visual discontinuity. An ultraviolet light examination offers clues to a painting's condition history. Organic varnishes glow a yellow-green color under such lighting. If restoration paint has been applied on top of the varnish, the area cannot glow and appears jet-black. This is referred to as "primary fluorescence." If a painting has been varnished more than once and the restoration work is sandwiched between the varnish layers, the ultraviolet light shows these areas as dark shadows. This is referred to as "secondary fluorescence." The ultraviolet light revealed areas of secondary fluorescence scattered throughout the painting but most pronounced in a H. 5" x W. 6" rectangle in the chest area of the left figure.
           
Surface Film
           
The paint surface was coated with four distinct films. The uppermost layer consisted of a dirt and grime film that was resting on top of an organic varnish. Similarly, the next two layers consisted of a still older dirt film on top of another organic varnish layer. Organic varnishes yellow and darken with age, thereby falsifying a painting's intended tonal relationships. They also serve to flatten the three-dimensional illusion of space. The painting's overall visual quality was severely compromised by the accumulation of these overlaying films.
           
Footnotes    
(7) Buck, Richard. "Stretcher Design, A Brief Preliminary History." Intermuseum Laboratory, Oberlin, Ohio (October 1972): 16.
(8) Stout, George. "Classes of Simple Paint Structure." Technical Studies, vol. vi (1938): 231.
           
           

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