Case Study

John Singer Sargent's

"Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild"

Before Treatment

August 25-30, 2005

The pine stretcher is H. 50 1/2" X W. 32 3/4". It is comprised of four outside members and one horizontal cross-member. The outside members are 3" wide, while the bracing member is 2 1/2" wide. Five of the eight corner keys are present. There are no cracks or reinforcements. The corner joins are of a simple mortise and tenon design, Buck type 4a.(15) The stretcher appears to be original to the painting. There are three stretcher labels. One, previously pictured, relates to the 1925 Museum of Fine Arts exhibit in Boston while another is a 1963 "condition" label. The third label only states, " The State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Frame." The stretcher members are straight and in excellent condition.

Horizontal View of Stretcher

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1925 Exhibition Label

1963 Stretcher Label

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. The artist has used the gesso as a transitional tone, most pronounced in the lower coat and background areas.

Lower Coat Highlights

Lower Right Background

The lined medium-weave linen support has 23 threads to the inch on both the warp and weft. The tacking edge has been removed from all four sides, probably during the former lining, although distinct cusping of the threads suggests that the composition has not been cut down. There are no holes or tears. The lining has been carried out using an aqueous adhesive, now caramel in color. The canvas is fastened to the stretcher using metal tacks. Former staple holes are also present. The lining is strong and stable.


Residue of Lining Adhesive

Tacking Edge Tack and
Former Staple Holes

The portrait is life-size for Fairchild was 5' 8" and in this composition, cropped at the knees, his visible image is 3' 9". He is wearing a dark formal topcoat. His right hand is holding a coat pocket and mirrors his empty sleeve that has been pinned into place. The white tone of his high collar is carefully balanced by his shirt cuff on the left and his handkerchief on the right. Fairchild is shown standing against a flat background. The only added details are the five medals pinned to his breast. He is slightly turned to his right and gazes directly at the viewer with a captivating blend of modesty and pride. The portrait is signed upper left and dated, "1887" upper right.

The paint has been smoothly applied with areas of impasto confined to the medals. The gesso is apparent throughout the coat and background due to the thin application of the vehicular paint.(16) The flesh tones are somewhat thicker suggesting a careful modeling of diaphanous layers. The paint is intact and secure. There are several scattered pinpoint losses but no areas of former restoration work. One small 1/2" scratch is located at H. 13" X W. 30". There are no preparatory drawings for the portrait reinforcing the theory that the image was drawn directly on the canvas. Edge pentimenti is clearly visible.

Pinpoint Loss

Surface Scratch

Shoulder Pentimenti

 Surface Film
The surface is coated with a thin layer of dirt and grime. This film is resting on top of an organic varnish that has darkened and yellowed over time. Both of these films are veiling the original color relationships and flattening the three-dimensional quality of the form. The varnish has been evenly applied and extends uniformly to all four edges.
(15) "Stretcher Design, A Brief Preliminary History" Richard Buck. Intermuseum Laboratory, Oberlin, Ohio. October, 1972. p. 16
(16) "Classes of Simple Paint Structure" George Stout. Technical Studies, Volume VI, 1938. p. 231.

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