It may be that before 1800 the painter was an artisan first and his studio a workshop with apprentices and craftsman alike working together in their expectation of producing work that would last many centuries, they produced their own colours, made their own grounds and passed on their knowledge to their students, all with the aim of continuing a tradition for employment, the only possible reservation was to have kept this within the confines of the town or city. Later artists had developed a more insular approach and with it have come the development of the brush, paint, varnish maker, framer and guilder, all separate entireties and all possibly subject to other market forces that may create the need for economy of materials or the vagaries of a market force with supply and demand adjusting price. This off the shelf approach would certainly have led to the artist being separated from intimate knowledge of his materials, especially the quality and content of the materials, also the painter gradually became less concerned with the quality or the longevity of his/her work, not appreciating the re sale but only the initial sale value, leaving others to find that they had bought a painting that now required maintenance, a very good example of this was the painter William Turner, whose almost cavalier attitude to paint and its application, led to his works cracking and flaking within months of their completion, thankfully his drawings and water colours where free from these problems. The earlier painter, by over three hundred years, Van Eyck whilst developing and learning the process of painting in oils, produced such quality paintings that they are now among the most well preserved of all art, sadly the expertise that he and his brother developed went to the apprentices but does not seem to have travelled beyond and saved the rest of art from the vagaries of bad technique and poor quality paints.
It is difficult to think how works of art before 1700, largely religious subjects and commissions, would have survived without them undergoing restoration, retouching or repainting, the continuance of style change and the gradual change of emphasis within the church, will have led to many paintings being up dated, given altered prominence and fresh adornment, provided by eager young artists that would need new commissions and seek fame. This would be for the church and the artists an ongoing work of art, almost seen as unfinished and certainly not the ownership of the original artist, the extreme of this can be seen in the ‘Guilio 11’ statue, by Michelangelo, becoming the ‘ Guilio Canon’.
The sensitivity of the eye and the ear has become something of a daily demonstration to me, with an almost loss of sight in the right eye, which is progressing well at the moment, and the diminished sight in the left eye, no longer able to improve the state of this eye, I have become aware that my hearing has adapted quickly , becoming more responsive and giving me more special awareness that seemed before to be the priority of my eyes.
My experiences whilst working for the theatre as a free lance scene painter, taught me to use daylight when ever possible and to use lamps that had a daylight factor when needed, for to get the colours correct and the tonal values balanced it was bar far best in natural daylight. This was however studio practice and when the canvas was sent to the theatre it became necessary to rework, under artificial lights, the canvas because of the demands from the designer, director and lighting director, the colour balance would be completely altered by the intensity of light and the use of coloured filters, a similar result is found when paintings are hung in galleries that have artificial lighting and coloured walls or floors. The direction of the light and its subsequent reflected angle can transform colours and hues, for it needs to be remembered that ‘ a painting as few tactile attributes. It is totally dependent on surface reflectance’
The play over light over smooth or impasto surfaces alter the effect that the eye perceives and that the relining of a canvas as well as the cleaning of the same can alter the viewers appreciation of the artists intent- ‘ the conservator’s primary loyalty is to the artist’ and then the artist can influence humanity.
‘Solvent action and the degree of persistence used in the removal of oxidized layers have a profound effect on the visual values’, ‘white, for instance, is not simply a tone but a colour’ and is worth noting when we consider the painter as an individual, all painters as individuals along with the spectators and restorers, not all painters, spectators and restorers view colours with the same sense of value. The surgeon, as it where, needs to remember that the work in front of him/her is an individual work of art with their own need to expression.
The gallery as well, as the restorer, needs to consider how best to show works of art, it is important for students to see the real article and not be content with a photographic record. Travelling to school, generally took three buses each way, meant that the return would take me through the city centre of Birmingham on foot and gave me the opportunity to spend time in the city art gallery before it closed in the evening, good during the summer or on wet evenings, this offered me the chance to see painters work on a regular basis and my joy was to look at the large collection of Pre Raphaelite paintings, their intensity of colour and craftsmanship was a constant inspiration to me, it could never be the same to have seen these fine works as photographic copies, especially when you may consider that those who produce the copies have never seen the originals. This is the danger therefore when applying varnish, especially the liberally applied tinted varnish of the past, in the cleaning or restoring of a painting, the fine glaze of pigment that may have been used by the artist to change the colour or hue can be lost or altered beneath a varnish or removed by a careless worker whilst cleaning, lost or removed with such ease, sometimes without the restorer noticing, can alter the artists intention or vision.
From a restorers view point there are many aspects of aging that cannot be redeemed or altered to good effect, pigments oxidize and change colour and effect the surrounding pigment, the effect can alter the balance and depth of a picture, a fading yellow that had been mixed to form green, will now leave an area blue.
Now a final comment in this posting on my blog, the use of oil as a medium was clearly known in antiquity, mixed with pigment and used as a paint, mostly to give extended time on frescoes, the paint applied as a dry, coat, secco, used sparingly, later this was used with tempera in the same manner but the whole would be varnished in order to preserve and give the dry looking tempera a more brilliant and deep colour. This coating could also be retouched and re-varnished, a procedure that would gone on for centuries. Clearly it should not have been any great step to try and make the medium and the preservative as one coat, to dismiss the egg yolk as a base and use only the oil and varnish. There is a problem however in the chemical make up of the pigments used, they are not all equal and have structures that are very different, ranging from metals, stone and vegetable bases, chemically not stable and often light sensitive, extended periods of time and sun light are able to change and fade the colours, this and the lack of consistent development as given rise to the restorer becoming so much more of an academic, if not now a scientific post but the essential that we must remember is to pay homage to the artist, when we attempt to restore a painting and not indulge in a re interpretation.
The use of animal glue as a medium is also one that I am aware of through my time in theatre, when I first started work in London we restored sets that had been painted during the 1930s and they were painted with glue size and pigment, most of the time we used whiting as a bulk pigment and then added other colours, unlike Titanium white, whiting had very little covering power but bulked the medium. The advantages for glue size was that at the end of the play's run the canvas was laid face down and the back of the canvas was drentched with hot water and scrubbed, resulting in the whole image lifting from the canvas and leaving it fresh for a new image to be painted. Animal glue can also be used with gesso, traditional priming for most early paintings and especially for early oil painting on wooden panels, the panel would be spread with a mixture of glue and gesso, using a spatula to smooth the surface, on drying it was then pumiced down and coated with more size, this led later to the same method being used to create a copy of 'Japanese lacquer', the animal if left to boil for some time becomes very hard and brittle, can be worked over almost the same as bone and then varnished and coloured to appear as tortouse shell or Japanese decoration.