Sophie undertakes all aspects of conservation and restoration of paintings. Working collaboratively with the client, she meets their needs and ultimately the needs of the artwork. When a client comes to Sophie, prior to any kind of treatment, the artwork is extensively surveyed and assessed and a condition report is devised if required. The next step is the deliverance of a schedule / treatment plan, alongside an estimate of time and costs for the client to look through, discuss any queries or questions, and agree upon. Sophie thoroughly runs through options and recommendations, and together she liaises with the client about the best route to take.
Treatments Sophie Offers:
Sophie’s attention to detail means that all treatments are articulated with immaculate respect, precision and care, ensuring that repair work isn’t visible from the front. Where a canvas needs treatment Sophie offers local tear mending, fixing of holes via canvas inserts, re-lining a canvas onto a new canvas support, re-stretching a canvas, replacing stretchers, removal of deformations, improving of canvas tension, and securing keys. For wooden panels Sophie offers the re-gluing of split panel joints and woodworm damage reduction. She can also assist when wooden panels have warped, usually by special framing to increase stability. Very often cradles can be found on the back of panels, which create tension in the wooden structure. They would have been attached during old restoration and they sometimes need to be removed to improve the panel’s condition. Sophie can preserve metal panels by re-framing them with great meticulousness, or by creating a bespoke tray. Deformations here usually cannot be removed, as the paint layers would be at great risk.
CONSOLIDATION OF PAINT
Sophie can assist when there is lifting or cupping paint, by using a variety of adhesives depending on the type of paint, the history of the artwork, the condition and the support. She uses a fine brush, a graffiti spray gun, a pin point or even a syringe in rare occasions when needed, working with absolute care and respect for the art. A specially developed heating spatula or hot air pen can help to settle the lifting paint back down. Often leaving an area resting under weights improves the adhesion to the support underneath.
SURFACE CLEANING, VARNISH REMOVAL OR REDUCTION
For art covered in or disfigured by dust, dirt, nicotine, or any other environmental influences, clients come to Sophie for removal, using a variety of aqueous cleaning agents, or sometimes simply deionised water. Often the cleaning process needs to be taken further by removing an old discoloured varnish. Precise testing is required in order to decipher the most suitable solvent mixture. Sometimes the reduction of a varnish can be more desirable than removing all layers. Often old restorations, discoloured retouchings and overpaint need to also be removed, as they are disfiguring the appearance of the original paint.
NEW VARNISH APPLICATION
If an old varnish has been removed Sophie applies a new one often in several stages brushed and sprayed. The type used is always dependent on the individual painting, where the painting is hanging/ the environment and the layer structure. There is a variety of resins to choose from, most of them synthetic, but sometimes Dammar as a natural resin can also be taken into consideration. The idea is to choose something, which suits the surface texture of the painting, is stable and does not change colour.
In the example of Charles 1 below several layers of very thin coats and different varnishes brushed and sprayed led to the best possible saturation.
Paint losses need to be filled in order to integrate them with the original paint surface prior to retouching. A variety of fillers can be used depending on if and how the surface of a filling needs to be textured. A good surface leads to an invisible retouching. For this step the conservator usually grinds pigments on the palette mixed with a certain retouching medium. Nowadays there are also a few high quality ready-made retouching products on the market. Sophie chooses the perfect method for each particular painting.
Sophie works closely with the well experienced specialist frame conservator Thomas Proctor, who is based in South London or she has also recently established a relationship with picture framer Thomas Rainsford here in Brighton - both would assist when clients require this service.
Sophie’s passion for the conservation of art means she’s always keen to advice on how to hang a painting. She assesses the environment and potential factors which can lead to deterioration, and she advises on ways to minimise them. Conservation framing plays a very important factor for long term preservation and there are different materials to consider.
Examining a painting in different lighting conditions can lead to the discovery of better understanding of the artwork. Looking at a painting in strong raking light can highlight changes and the brushstroke. UV-light inspection will distinguish stages of restoration, partial cleaning, retouching, over paint and varnish thickness. Closer analysis under the microscope is another very important factor.
This service involves taking paint samples to be identified by a specialist in order to identify pigments, the paint medium and the different paint layers. This information can help to establish a painting technique/artist’s palette, a possible date, origin and the historical background.
Infrared Reflectography (IRR) can reveal the artist’s underdrawing helping us to understand the creative process, show pentimenti / changes of the artist’s intention during the first stage.
X-Radiography (X Ray) of paintings can also reveal changes in the composition as well as hidden paintings underneath where a canvas may have been reused by the artist or where a painting has been overpainted at a later stage. Macroscopic X-ray fluorescence analysis (MA-XRF) can establish the distribution of pigment over a large area through the characteristic radiation of certain elements present.
Sophie has been working on site at numerous different National Trust properties over the years. She has also looked after paintings in other national collections, museums and private homes if required. If the intervention is only minor, if it involves a condition survey, surface cleaning or other tasks which don’t demand the use of strong solvents, it often makes sense to treat paintings in situ to avoid transporting them around.
LOAN CONDITION REPORTS AND PREPARATION
Sophie has frequently been preparing paintings for loan by making sure they travel in the best possible condition to be part of an exhibition somewhere around the world. She uses her own report template where necessary but has also been undertaking many for the National Trust who have their own condition report.
Sophie has also been condition checking paintings arriving in this country upon arrival and prior to their departure. On a couple of occasions, she has been couriering paintings to their destination.
Sophie documents all treatments undertaken; both in written and photographic forms. This helps future generations to understand any possible changes, the condition prior to treatment, the history of an artworks and the materials used.