New restoration technique used on Old Masters painting

March 26, 1994|By Linell Smith

Conservators at the Walters Art Gallery are among the first in the world to use a recently developed conservation method to repair an Old Masters painting, according to Eric Gordon, the senior conservator of paintings.

The problem: How to preserve parts of the Tiepolo painting which buckled recently from water damage without losing any of the original paint? When water from a leak in the roof streamed in channels over the face of the painting, the canvas shrunk in several areas and forced the paint upward.

The solution: Using a piece of equipment called the Mitka table, the conservators humidify and relax the surface, allowing the paint to reattach itself to the canvas instead of flaking off.

A heating unit from the Mitka table is attached to the back of a small part of the affected area while a moist blotter, held in place under a piece of Mylar, is attached to the front of the area. This part of the procedure, which lasts about 1 1/2 hours, softens the paint and glue layers while promoting expansion of the underlying fabric.

The next step is to remove the blotter and use a blow drier to gently apply warm pressure from the front of the painting.

Finally, suction from behind the canvas coaxes the paint surface back to its original place while also helping to dry the paint flakes.

Although this procedure has been used to treat 20th-century paintings, this may be the first time it has been applied to the more dry and brittle surfaces of Old Masters paintings, says Mr. Gordon. It has proven very successful.

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