Treatment of a Braque Hidden Treasure: Part 1, Finding a Signature

Print before treatment. Georges Braque, The Studio Table, 1923, Color aquatint on paper 23 x 8 1/2 in.; 58.42 x 21.59 cm.. Acquisition date unknown.

Print before treatment. Georges Braque, The Studio Table, 1923, Color aquatint on paper 23 x 8 1/2 in.; 58.42 x 21.59 cm.. Acquisition date unknown.

This etching and aquatint, The Studio Table (1923), was done on RIVES BFK paper by Jacques Villon, a significant printmaker during the early 20th century, in collaboration with Georges Braque. In 1922, the Bernheim Jeune dealers and publishers asked Villon to create a series of 40 intaglio plates after modern artists’ works. This print was the 4th pull in an edition of 200 made in 1923 after Georges Braque’s painting Guitar and Still Life on a Guéridon (1922) in the collection of the Met.

Villon used very advanced and complicated techniques to reproduce the texture and aesthetic of the paintings his prints represented. It appears that three plates with a total of seven different colors of ink were used; the registration holes that kept these plates lined up during printing are visible below. Two different techniques were used to create this work. One was etching, a process where a copper plate is covered with wax and then scratched into using an etching needle and bathed in acid to bite into these lines. Villon also used aquatint, a process where a layer of acid resistant particles is spread across the surface of the copper plate as the ground. The artist will use a stop-out varnish to allow the acid to bite around the particles for different lengths of time to create darker or lighter toned areas. A unique tool called a rocker was used to create the dashed line texture, which can be seen in the details below. Click on the thumbnails below to see details of the print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a significant layer of adhesive that obscured the margins of the print. Using infrared imaging, we were able to see through the adhesive that both Villon and Braque signed the bottom of this print. In other editions, both artists did not sign the print, making the Phillips’ work particularly significant. The decision was made to remove the adhesive to show these signatures using a series of controlled steps that can be seen in more detail in the following posts. Read part two tomorrow…

Caroline Hoover, Conservation Assistant

Detail illustrating excess adhesive in the margin.

Detail illustrating excess adhesive in the margin.

Signatures of Braque, left and Villon, right.

Signatures of Braque, left and Villon, right.

 

A Subtle But Significant Improvement: Conserving A “Petal Painting” (Part III)

Read parts one and two of this series.

Results of Treatment

Treatment resulted in a subtle but significant improvement to the picture’s appearance. Greater contrast between the dark colors in the background and the pastel “petals” in the foreground returns a sense of vibrancy and movement to the composition. In addition, although they remain inherently fragile, consolidation left the paint layers more stable–improving the overall condition of the picture.

Number 8 seen Before Treatment, left, and After Treatment, right

No. 8 seen Before Treatment, left, and After Treatment, right

Left: The back of the painting, exposed; note the lighter color of the new stretcher keys against the darker, aged wood of the stretcher Right: The back of the painting with a protective foam-core backing.

Left: The back of the painting showing the canvas and stretcher. Right: The back of the painting with a protective foam-core backing, attached to the stretcher to add support and protect the back of the canvas from dust and blows.

A Subtle But Significant Improvement: Conserving A “Petal Painting” (Part II)

Read part one of this series here.

Consolidating Flaking Paint

Before the picture could be cleaned safely, flaking paint throughout the canvas needed to be stabilized, or consolidated, to prevent losing original material. A water-based glue made from fish bladders was selected for consolidation–the adhesive is relatively strong at low concentrations and, because it is used warm, it helps to relax lifted paint to allow it to be set flat again.

This detail shows an area of cracked and flaking paint. To consolidate the paint, the water-based adhesive was fed into cracks using a small brush.  Adhesive was applied through a layer of tissue to protect the paint surface.

This detail shows an area of cracked and flaking paint. To consolidate the paint, the water-based adhesive was fed into cracks using a small brush. Adhesive was applied through a layer of tissue to protect the paint surface.

For consolidation, the 66 x 48-inch painting was placed flat and elevated on blocks.  A flat suction platen was placed underneath, against the back of the canvas (The grey hose that attaches the adjustable platen to a vacuum can be seen in the picture above).

For consolidation, the 66 x 48-inch painting was placed flat and elevated on blocks. A flat suction platen was placed underneath, against the back of the canvas (The grey hose that attaches the adjustable platen to a vacuum can be seen in the picture above).

Gentle suction was used to draw adhesive through cracks in the paint and beneath the paint layers. The adhesive was kept warm in a beaker with an electric mug warmer. The warmth and moisture of the adhesive relaxed areas of lifted paint so they could be carefully set down. The suction held the consolidated paint in place while the glue dried. Any glue residue was removed using warm distilled water, which was applied through tissue to protect the paint surface and prevent paint loss.

Cleaning a Delicate Paint Surface

In order to clean the painting without altering the surface, the conventional methods needed to be modified. In the end, a fairly simple solution of cleaning through a layer of tissue was found to work very well to release the grime layer while protecting the delicate paint. The type of tissue that worked best, “wet-strength” tissue, is the same as that used for making tea bags. Careful testing found distilled water adjusted to a custom pH to be a safe and effective cleaning solution for the picture. Applied through tissue using a cotton swab, it released a fine, yellowish grime from the paint, which soaked into the tissue. Tissue squares and swabs were carefully monitored for hints of other color, but even the dry media–the white chalk and black charcoal–were protected by the tissue interleaf.   …Read part three tomorrow.

Conservator Patricia Favero holds a square of tissue against the paint surface with her left hand while, with her right hand, applying the pH-adjusted cleaning solution through the tissue using a cotton swab.

Conservator Patricia Favero holds a square of tissue against the paint surface with her left hand while, with her right hand, applying the pH-adjusted cleaning solution through the tissue using a cotton swab.