Case Study

Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Original, Copy, or Studio Version

"Boy with a Drawing in his Hand"
Before Treatment

6/2/07 to 6/16/07

The profile image of the seated boy, cropped at the knee, appears to be life-size. He is depicted in Van Dyke dress, including red-velvet garments and a white collar. The model is looking at his drawing study of the gray cast behind him on the table alongside a rolled piece of paper and a drawing implement. The red velvet and the green cloth are harmoniously balanced against the cooler background tones. There is an open window in the upper-left corner offering a view of a recessional landscape. There are no additional details on the wall behind the sitter. The painting is unsigned and undated.

The painting has been stretched onto an oak, H. 30 1/8" x W. 25 1/8" stretcher comprised of four outside members and one horizontal member. The stretcher is quite old and may be the painting's original auxiliary support. The outside members are 2 1/4" wide and 3/4" deep, and the cross-member is 1 5/8" wide and 3/8" deep. The corner joins are a simple mortise-and-tenon design, Buck type 4a.(57) All ten keys, two in each corner and one at each end of the cross-member, are present and have been secured into position using metal nails. There are no cracks or reinforcements. The members are straight and in generally good condition. There are no stretcher labels, but there is one ink stretcher stamp on the horizontal cross-member. The stamp is quite blurry, but, fortunately, there is a second impression on the back of the lining canvas.

Horizontal View of Stretcher

The lined, fine-weave linen support has twenty-six threads to the inch on both the warp and weft. The tacking edge has been pared but is extant on all four edges. This fact coupled with the distinct cusping of the edge threads verifies that the composition had not been cut down. There are no obvious holes or tears. The original canvas has been lined to a secondary canvas support using an aqueous adhesive. The lining canvas is coarser than the original and has eighteen threads to the inch. The lining is strong and stable. The canvas has been fastened to the stretcher using metal tacks.
There is one canvas stamp. The stamp is in French and is not fully legible. The exterior ring says Douanes Françaises (French Customs). The interior may say Paris on the first line followed by an illegible word. The A.T. stands for Admission Temporaire (Temporary Admission). In 1961, the abbreviation AT was changed to ATA when an international treaty on imports and exports was established. The stamp may testify that at some time the painting entered France, although no French exhibition of the piece has been recorded.(58)


The ground has been thinly and evenly applied, probably white when first applied, but now slightly discolored from oil staining. The gesso appears to be calcium carbonate and is well intact. There are no areas where the artist has used the ground as a transitional tone within the painting.
The background areas have been painted using flat, smooth strokes offering seamless tonal transitions. This technique contrasts sharply with the confident broader strokes used to create the red-velvet highlights. A similar open-brushwork style is used for the cast, producing a strong chiaroscuro modeling of the face. The flesh areas, though, have been carefully modeled, once again with seamless, blended transitions. The paint composition is pellicular in nature.(59)

Background Seamless Paint Application

Neck Seamless Paint Application

Cast Open Paint Application

Clothes Open Paint Application
Isolated areas of impasto are present within the highlights of the clothes, the drawing implement, and along the edges of the white collar. There are no areas of lifting paint or visible losses. The paint is intact and secure. Minor abrasions and several small surface scratches are present.

Collar Impasto
Severe cracking of the paint has occurred in the lower sky, resulting in a fine-netted dark crackle pattern. Disfiguring vertical "gorge-like" openings riven the landscape areas exposing dark black fissures. This type of "alligatoring" normally occurs when a quick-drying layer is placed on top of a slower-drying substrate. The openness of the cracks suggests the use of bitumen in the lower layer.

Sky Cracks

Landscape Open Cracks
  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 Reynolds suffered from this visual discontinuity. Restoration work covered almost half of the sitter's face. These areas had discolored to a red-purple tone and were out of context with the rest of the face.

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."


Face Under Ultraviolet Light
The ultraviolet light revealed areas of secondary fluorescence within the face and the background areas silhouetting the sitter's face. The restoration work in this area has created a stiff, hard-edged, profile.

Surface Film
The surface was coated with a thin layer of dirt and grime. This film rested on top of an organic varnish that had darkened and yellowed over time. Under this layer was an older organic varnish coating. These films masked the original color relationships and flattened the three-dimensional quality of the form.
(57) Buck, Richard. "Stretcher Design, A Brief Preliminary History." Intermuseum Laboratory, Oberlin, Ohio. October 1972. p.16.
(58) Background on French customs stamps provided by Anne Conner. Phoenix, Arizona.
(59) Stout, George."Classes of Simple Paint Structure." Technical Studies. Vol. VI. 1938. p.231.


Table of Contents, Biography, Reynolds's Fancy Pictures, "The Net Boy," Catalogue Entry, Examination, Preliminary Evaluation


Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532