George Morland & William Orpen

c. 1780-90
c. 1911

Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island, New York, NY

In the spring of 2018, I undertook the treatment of two small landscapes by British painters George Morland and William Orpen. The paintings came to the conservation center from the Long Island historic house museum, Old Westbury Gardens. This Charles II style mansion was built in 1906 by the English designer George Crawley and was home to John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children. Belonging to a prominent family of British descent, the Phipps furnished the house with English paintings and antiques, as well as commissioning works from early 20th-century painters such as William Orpen. My treatment aimed to remedy improve the aesthetic quality of the paintings, while also keeping in mind their return to the context of the lived-in historic interiors they are displayed in. This treatment was performed under the supervision of conservator and instructor, Lucy Kinsolving, as part of the course Treatment of Deterioration Works of Art.

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Before Treatment
The Water Mill, George Morland, c.1780-1790

oil on canvas, 33.5cm x 44.7 cm

The Water Mill

George Morland 

The landscape and motifs in this version of The Water Mill are similar to those in Morland’s landscapes from 1785 through the early 1790’s. The painting is structurally sound, but its appearance was compromised by darkened overpaint and heavily discolored varnish. The painting had been previously lined causing an emphasis of the weave pattern on the front; points of abrasion in the raised weave were especially noticeable in the thinly painted dark passages. This necessitated a careful and sensitive cleaning of the varnish.

During cleaning it became evident that the white ground was visible through small pinhole losses in the paint layer. Under microscopic examination these white spots protruded from the surface and had a translucent quality characteristic of lead soap formation. They may have been formed from interaction of the lead containing ground layer with upper paint layers and ageing binding mediums. 

During and After Treatment Images

During varnish removal
During varnish removal

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Detail of varnish removal
Detail of varnish removal

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After treatment
After treatment

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During varnish removal
During varnish removal

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Small dark dots were visible throughout the landscape when viewed under ultraviolet light. The surface has been previously retouched to eliminate the small white spots caused by the protrusions. These dark dots were now emphasized by removal of the darkened varnish and did not match the true colors of the original paint layer. The previous retouching was not sensitive to solvent action and instead I removed them mechanically under a microscope.

 

After an isolating varnish, limited inpainting was completed to reduce the visual disruption caused by the pinhole losses. Before returning the painting, I cut and attached a backing board made from acid-free blue board to the reverse of the stretcher to avoid debris that had deposited behind the stretcher bars from the house's Christmas decorations.

For more on this treatment download the treatment report below. 

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Before Treatment
Wish Landscape, William Orpen, c.1911

oil on wooden artist board, 33.1 cm x 23 cm

During and After Treatment Images

During treatment, varnish removal
During treatment, varnish removal

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On the Clifs of Howth Image Sothebys
On the Clifs of Howth Image Sothebys

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After Treatment
After Treatment

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During treatment, varnish removal
During treatment, varnish removal

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Welsh Landscape

William Orpen

Though this small painting Welsh Landscape is unsigned, it is securely attributed by all evidence to the early twentieth-century Irish artist William Orpen who lived and worked in London. Mr. Phipps acquired the painting as a gift from the artist while sitting for a portrait painted by Orpen, which he displayed in his study. The painting benefited from the removal of the yellowed varnish layer as well as an investigation of the artist’s technique. 

The small sketch on wooden board shows a similar landscape and technique as Orpen’s small paintings executed in the immediate vicinity of Howth Head a town on the east coast of Ireland where Orpen and his family spent their summers. 

A signed oil sketch of his daughter sitting along the cliffs of Howth displays similar handling of the sky and rocky landscapes, including the use of the exposed wooden panel. Another painting, View from Howth, signed and dated 1911 seems to show a faint ground applied over the board, which is left exposed in patches of the sky. This technique is also observed in the Old Westbury picture.

Infrared reflectography confirmed that the shrub-filled foreground and the angular peaks along the horizon were first drawn with a pencil strongly suggesting they depict a specific landscape, possibly the view of the Wicklow mountains across the bay at Howth. The bare edges of the wood panel along with the slight flattening of soft impasto suggests that this work may have been a plein air study. Orpen often made such outdoor studies to prepare for his larger works. 

For more on this treatment download the treatment report below.