Case Study: a step by step guide to repairing a tear in an oil painting
For every tear repair that we undertake in the studio, a variety of methods and materials are used. As every instance of damaged art is different, it follows that so too is the restoration process.
When a torn oil painting comes into the studio, it is assessed and a suitable approach and plan for restoring the artwork is implemented.
Last month, we collected a small oil on canvas from a client in Glasgow that was badly torn. The painting had belonged to the client’s grandmother and understandably the damage was very distressing. Little is known of the provenance, artist, and history behind the painting, except it was believed to be an 18th Century work. Our client hoped that some indecipherable writing on the back of the canvas may hold some clues, like the location of the cottage or exact date it was created.
This was the first time the painting’s condition had been assessed. Once in the studio, a suitable plan was implemented. The painting would need to be relined to repair the tear, cleaned and revarnished.
The painting was first carefully removed from the stretcher bars, which act as the support for the canvas.
There was a considerable accumulation of dust and trapped dirt behind the stretcher bars.
Following the clean, the canvas was flattened using conservation standard weights to apply pressure, in preparation for the repairs.
Before the re-lining could happen, the fibres of the tear were re-joined with welding powder that was gently heated with a hot spatula.
The painting was then ready for the relining table. A compound of Beva 371 and white spirit was applied to a new blank canvas, and to the back of the painting.
When our client first let us know about the writing, we were hopeful that after cleaning it would be easier to decipher. After the compound for lining was applied, the writing did become clearer. It was still not possible to identify any key details however – the artist’s name was in no other place on the painting, and the frame did not provide any clues into its provenance. We were able to ascertain that the painting was likely an eighteenth century piece, due to the extreme stiffness of the canvas and the cleaning materials later required to remove dirt from the surface.
Both the new canvas and the painting were left to dry overnight – they had to dry for at least 12 hours so only the dry Beva 371 remained. Once dry, the new canvas was then laid over the back of the painting, and ironed to reactive the Beva 371. Once this was reactivated, the new canvas was consolidated and stable, and the painting was left to dry again.
After the tear was successfully repaired and the canvas relined, the painting could be re-attached to the stretcher bars. The structural support had now been strengthened, so our attention turned to the aesthetic aspect of the painting. The surface was cleaned, and a couple of areas were very lightly retouched. As you can see in the below video, it’s a painstaking process to carefully apply the new colour matched paint to the existing layer.
After the painting had dried, a couple of layers of varnish were then applied.
Over the course of the restoration, we provided regular photographic updates to our clients, who were delighted to see the progress. The previously evident tear is now no longer visible, and the painting can be fully appreciated and enjoyed.
With the painting stabilised and the restoration successfully completed, it was then ready to be returned to our clients as an important piece of family history preserved.