Case Study: Discovery of a second nose in portrait clean

For any painting shrouded in years of accumulated dust and dirt, an air of mystery can surround the artwork.

For an oil painting we recently cleaned and restored, it turned out to be a well-placed assumption that more was waiting to be uncovered.

The artwork was in need of several treatments after deteriorating over the years.

Multiple tears and holes marred its appeal and enjoyment. After assessment in the studio, we also ascertained that previous restoration attempts had been made, specifically with patches placed over the back of the canvas to cover small holes. This conservation technique was practiced many years ago, and is now obsolete.

Once the canvas had been removed from the stretcher bars and flattened with PEL conservation weights, we rectified the results of the previous restoration. A glue mixture was gently scraped away to release these patches. After the glue residue was disposed of, the back of the canvas was then cleaned.

To ensure the stability of the canvas, new inlays were then inserted in place over the holes and secured with welding powder.

For the tears, the fibres were realigned and likewise secured with the welding powder. After this preparatory stage, the painting was ready to be relined.

On the lining table, the painting was carefully aligned on top of a new canvas that had been impregnated with wax. Both canvases were then sealed with melinex by heating on the table.

 

Once this was completed, the canvas was re-attached onto the stretcher bars, and ready to be cleaned.

It was at this point we uncovered an interesting part of the painting’s history.

It became apparent that the bottom part of a nose had been added on to the existing facial feature.

It was only when this painting was cleaned and the years of dirt were removed that this ‘second nose’ was properly visible.

This presented a unique challenge for our conservators. The area was assessed, and it was determined that sympathetic retouching could combine the two noses.

After pigment matching, the area was carefully retouched to incorporate the appendage and recreate the original facial feature.

After attention was given to this specific area, the multiple other areas of paint loss on the canvas could be addressed. This included carefully matching the original pigments to the new canvas inlays.

Once these areas had been retouched, the original paintwork was comprehensively revived.

The final steps involved the application of a conditioning treatment, and subsequently, a revarnish.

 

The restoration was a highly interesting and insightful project. Although it presented various challenges along the way, we were able to assess the most suitable course of action for conservation and apply those methods to the artwork. The uniform style of the painting has been preserved, and the subtle finish required for the discovery of the second nose is in keeping with the portrait as a whole.

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