The Fountain Inn, by Louis Larsen, was a very challenging conservation assignment. When the painting arrived in the gallery it was covered in a layer of air-borne soot, grime and nicotine, as well as a discolored, dull varnish. The paint was unstable and had several areas of losses. There was also tenting paint, which means that paint was lifted from the ground of the canvas, but not fully detached.
Previous restoration work had left the painting abraded, which means it was worn down and badly thinned. In this particular case, the painting was removed from the frame and examined under high magnification and U.V. light. This painting needed a relining, so our conservators undertook the tedious process of securing a secondary support to the back of the canvas.
First, the surface of the painting was coated with a layer Japanese tissue paper and a thermoplastic adhesive; it was then removed from its stretcher. Next, the tented and water damaged paint was brought into plane using the ‘burnt finger’ method with light moisture and a small tacking iron. The reverse was lightly scraped with a scalpel to remove any dirt or weave imperfections. The painting was then placed on a vacuum pressure hot table and given a light moisture treatment.
This treatment moisturizes the canvas and paint eliminating some of the brittleness that occurs after many years. A secondary support was treated with a thermoplastic adhesive, and was joined to the painting on the hot table. The painting was then reattached to the stretcher. The tissue paper facing was removed and a cleaning test was done on the edge of the image. Dirt, varnish and grime were removed using cleaning solutions and small cotton swabs. After application, the cleaning agents were neutralized. The process continued until no further improvements were observed.
A separation coat of varnish was then applied and losses were filled and textured to match existing brushwork. The separation coat of varnish ensures that our conservator's in-painting will never make direct contact with the artist's original work. The areas of loss were then in-painted using restoration colors. A final coat of varnish was then applied. Conservation was complete, and the painting was restored.