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Abundantia: Treasures of the Sea, Hans Makart c1870-1875,  oil on canvas, 40.3 x 105.7cm 

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL 

Removing tacks
Removing tacks

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Fiber debris caught in stretcher
Fiber debris caught in stretcher

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During dry sponge cleaning
During dry sponge cleaning

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Removing tacks
Removing tacks

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An excess of the prepared canvas along both right and left sides had been left unrestricted.  Flexing of the stiff canvas had caused long tears to form immediately below the securing tacks. In addition, small tears had formed around most of the tacking holes and the tacks no longer effectively held the canvas. To remedy this condition I planned a system that would allow both local repairs and an edge lining to be independently reversible. A mock-up confirmed that a thermoplastic Beva lining could be safely reversed over top of non-thermoplastic acrylic dispersions. 

 

First, the curled tacking margins were humidified and brought into plane at a 90-degree angle. Local repairs were made using Lascaux 498 acrylic adhesive and Stabiltex polyester textile. These patches were applied over losses and tears in the original canvas. After this, a fine linen canvas was chosen to complete a supportive edge lining and adhered with Beva film.

This painting by Austrian artist Hans Makart was painted onto a single piece of fine, lightweight canvas. The plain weave canvas was coated with a ground layer and had significantly stiffened with age. Over extension of the stretcher along with small tears throughout the tacking margins required attention for the future preservation of the painting. 

When the museum backing board was removed it was clear that the reverse of both the stretcher and canvas had accumulated a heavy layer of dirt and dust. Debris and deposits caught between the canvas and lower stretcher bar were also causing canvas distortions that were visible in the front of the painting. After preparing a suitable work surface, the painting was placed face down and removed from the stretcher. The extensive amount of fibers, dirt, and debris under the stretcher was removed by lifting matted fibers and brushing dust into a low power HEPA vacuum. The stretcher bars and the reverse of the canvas were cleaned with non-latex dry sponges to remove embedded dirt. Dirt was also removed from the exterior edges of the stretcher bars by cleaning with moistened cotton swabs.  

Humidification of edges
Humidification of edges

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Edges before and after flattening
Edges before and after flattening

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Corner after securing edge lining
Corner after securing edge lining

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Humidification of edges
Humidification of edges

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The wood stretcher also required modification. Its corners had been overextended and they were no longer flush with the central portion of the bars, which protruded 1/8 inch beyond this edge. This resulted in sharp distortions in the corners. The canvas had conformed to the shape of these areas without any breaks or losses however spots of abrasion from the frame were noted on the surface. Due to the frame’s sight size these corner distortions were also visible when placed inside the current frame. I decided to realign these edges to avoid future damage and ensure the best display and security in the frame.

 

The distortion in the canvas were relaxed using weights with dampened and dry blotters applied to the back of the canvas. Strips of poplar wood were cut and shaped to the required size for each corner of the stretcher in both the interior and exterior faces. A non-stick mylar barrier was placed below the edge to ensure that the stretcher's join would remain open. The wood fills were adhered with rabbit skin glue and allowed to dry under pressure. Rabbit skin glue was also applied to consolidate splits in the thin wood toungue of the overlapping bar.

The painting will be placed back on its stretcher using the original tacks with small paper squares used to provide a barrier between tacks and the repaired canvas.  

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Shaping wood fills

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Placing Mylar barrier

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Securing fills with clamps

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After Treatment