Thursday, July 24, 2008

Restoration of an early New Zealand Watercolour

G. H. Elliott: “Mountain Mists”
Taipo Valley, Westland.
Condition report and Conservation of a late 19th, early 20th century,
New Zealand water colour

I believe this painting to be the work of a very competent landscape water colourist and one of significance to the history of art and artists of New Zealand. (Refer to the dossier of print derived from various sources from the internet relating to G.H. Elliot & the Canterbury School of Art of which he was director from 1886 to 1905).

The painting at the time of writing, so far as can be ascertained, has been in the possession of descendants of G.H. Elliot continuously until it was uplifted by Fran who sought me out & instructed me to carry out the restoration work. The painting came to me in dilapidated condition with all the component parts separated.

Parts included:
1: Gilt frame.
2: glass.
3: White painted matt board with inscription Mountain Mists Taipo Valley Westland.
4: Watercolour painting signed by artist G.H. Elliott on paper mounted with gum arabic onto old cardboard backing.
5: Backing card with stamped inscription from a commercial framer.

Gilt frame:
Badly chipped at the corners and on the relief moldings with several sections of the decorative gilded surface missing. All miter joints had started.

Lower left corner.

Lower right corner.

Top Right

Top left

Removed several large nails from frame rebate.
All joints thoroughly cleaned. Frame was re glued with aliphatic PVA resin and clamped. All old steel corner fastenings were examined and left in place to avoid further damage to delicate composition detail.

A cast was taken from an undamaged section of the frame relief with dental algenate and a new section was cast in the impression with a polyester resin filler.
The missing sections were replaced with new, fitted inserts. Small saw cuts were made into the edges of the damaged corners and inserts of timber were glued in to rebuild the corners to a neat , sharp external right angle. The repairs were primed and resurfaced with spirit based antique gold metallic paint. Much of the surface paint was damaged past touch up level so the decision was taken to refinish the whole frame.

Glass cleaned, Matt board cleaned with moist tissues and repaired with gesso filler. All blemishes retouched with appropriate white paint.

The decision was taken to clean the painting in accordance with a procedure described by conservator Christine Smith from her paper published by the American Institute for Conservation, Volume 17, 1998.
“Inpainting/overpainting paper art using mixed dry pigments & complimentary colours”

Before repair showing foxing, moisture damage, abrasion/gouging to paper and insect damage. Please note the deeper colouration around the image, this being the result of acid foxing and protection from sunlight by the matt board. The matt has been poorly repainted at some time since its original framing. There is a vertical “cut in” line of white paint evident on the right and left of the image which is untreatable.

Detail of surface damage: Moisture damage and vertical paint line evident.

Detail of surface damage:

Further detail of deep scoring damage in river foreground.

Cleaning was achieved by finely grating a pencil eraser over the entire surface of the work, which was then gently rubbed over the painting with a soft brush, lifting loose dust and contaminants from the paint surface & considerably revealing the pigment colours and generally improving the appearance of the work.

After cleaning pigment powders were prepared from high quality pastels ground by blade on a glass surface. Watercolour paints were generally of the dried cake variety at the time of painting and I made an educated guess at the likely colours used by Elliott from such a palette. The pigments were mixed to match each area of damage and applied with the use of a selection dentists “points.”

Areas of damaged paper were carefully in-filled and over-painted using dry pigment only. All obtrusive foxing marks were disguised in the same manner.

After conservation treatment. (click on image for detailed view).

All processes were chosen for reversibility should the work be subject to further conservation treatment in the future.

Every care was taken to retain the original qualities, colours, details and composition of the original work.

Details of the repaired frame.

Refitting painting in frame:

The Elliott painting back in its frame.
The decision was made to follow contemporary archival practice in the replacement of the painting back into the refurbished frame.

At re assembly it was found that the glass no longer fitted the rebate of the repaired frame by an excess of 2 mm. It is assumed that the glass was cut to fit the frame at a time when the miter joints were partially separated later in the life of the painting. A correctly fitting replacement 3mm glass panel was the only practical solution.

A narrow length of double-sided tape was laid onto the back of the glass around the perimeter. Four strips of mylar were cut and fitted onto the back of the glass surface, overlapping the edges & secured by the tape. Once assembled the tape and mylar are obscured by the rebate of the picture frame. The mylar strips were folded back to create an envelope. As the glass was placed into the rebate, into the envelope was placed the mat board, cardboard positioning strips, painting, acid free backing sheet and backing card in a sandwich. Finally the protruding mylar strips were folded over and taped down to the backing card thereby sealing the painting, behind its mat board, airtight against the glass. The enveloped sandwich was then secured with small plated nails in the traditional manner and taped over with framing tape.

The finished result is not without its blemishes however the evident damage has been minimized to the naked eye. The dry pigment repairs to the painting can be seen in raking light on close inspection. The frame, though not sporting its original finish (because of the extensive damage and marking) is as like to the original as could reasonably be achieved within the scope of this restoration.

Harmen Hielkema, Artist designer, (B.A, BSD), Waima Lodge. Dated: 23/7/08 Ph. 09 405 3808

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