Case Study

John Singer Sargent's

"Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild"

Before Treatment

The pinpoint losses were consolidated using a 1:10 gelatin adhesive. The liquid adhesive was applied using a small sable brush. This initial step allowed treatment work to continue without risk of further loss.(17)

The cleaning of an oil painting involves the removal of discolored surface films and all areas of non-original paint. An understanding of the chemistry of paint films is required to remove the films without injury to the surface. This work is carried out under binocular magnification using cotton swabs and appropriate solvents. The upper dirt film was removed using a mild Ph-neutral detergent while the varnish was removed using organic solvents.
Organic varnishes turn yellow as they age. They flatten the form and impart an overall false tonality. Cleaning reinstates the original color relationships and the intended illusion of three-dimensional space.

Face During Cleaning

Face During Cleaning

Collar During Cleaning

Hand During Cleaning
A brush coat of Windsor-Newton non-yellowing varnish was applied to the paint surface. Varnish is applied for several reasons. First, it reinstates the richness of the paint allowing the darks to have their proper tone. Second, it keeps dirt and air pollution off of the picture surface. Third, the surface coating protects the paint layer from damage caused by abrasion, moisture and accidental accretions. The varnish also creates an ethical buffer between the original paint layer and the retouching or inpainting. Conservators do not paint directly on the original paint surface. The work is done on top of the isolating varnish and can be removed by simply removing the underlying varnish.
Retouching is carried out to correct visual irregularities caused by inherent structural problems or surface damage. Its purpose is to reduce or eliminate these inconsistencies. The retouching was completed using Maimeri conservation pigments. These pigments are both color and light fast offering confidence that the restoration areas will remain consistent over time. Also, the pigments are soluble in mineral spirits. This relatively weak solvent permits safe removal without risk of injury to the paint surface. The portrait was in almost pristine condition requiring only minor retouching in pinpoint losses and abrasions.(18)


October 30, 2005
After retouching, the application of a final non-yellowing spray varnish completed the treatment.

Before Treatment

After Treatment
(17) References for consolidation, cleaning, varnishing, retouching and completion have been drawn from the author's 2005 Case Study on Heinrich Knirr's, "Portrait of Adolf Hitler."
(18) Retouching and varnishing purposes based on Morton C. Bradley's, "The Treatment of Pictures." 1950. Cosmos Press. Cambridge, MA.
Note--Retouching image based on M.C. Escher.

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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