London

Fine Art Conservation: Gloucester Harbour, Watercolour Painting by J. M. Barnsley

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

Sometimes bad things happen to good art! This elegant watercolour painting by Canadian artist J. M. Barnsley had suffered water damage in a flooded basement, causing a large disfiguring stain across most of the image. 

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

Luckily, recent stains are often easier to treat than old stains, and when the owners brought it to Book and Paper Conservation Services, we were able to help. 

The process was multi-fold. First, the acidic pulp board backer on the watercolour was removed. This step was painstaking and time-consuming, but necessary before any cleaning could be undertaken. The brown colouring and acidity of the pulp board had leached into the painting when it was exposed to water, causing the staining in the image; it had also caused the paper overall to yellow and deteriorate. Backer boards like this are very common on 19th century watercolours, and this is why we always recommend they be removed as a preservation measure for any work of art on paper. 

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Once the painting was free of the backer board, it underwent aqueous cleaning in deionized water; this treated not only the overall yellowing of the paper but also began the process of loosening the dark brown staining in the image. After several rinses, the watercolour was air dried, and the results evaluated. Washing had brightened paper tone and significantly reduced the hard brown water stain.

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After extensive testing to determine the sensitivity of the pigments and potential reaction of the stain, the final step was to locally apply a chemical bleach to further treat the discolouration. Only solutions that have been tested and approved by conservation scientists are used for chemical bleaching treatments, and only in very controlled applications; the treatment must not leave any trace amounts of chemical, or cause any further damage to the materials. In this case, a very low percentage of a reducing agent was used, and the paper was then rinsed multiple times to remove all chemical residue.

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

The bleaching treatment further reduced the stain, to the point that it is nearly eliminated. Light losses to the watercolour pigment in areas of mould damage were inpainted to unify the image. The scene can now be appreciated without distraction, and the paper tone is brighter, allowing the colours to appear as the artist intended. 

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

An unexpected revelation after treatment was the title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, handwritten in graphite on the lower left corner of the verso. 

The title of the painting,  Gloucester Harbour , revealed on the verso.

The title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, revealed on the verso.

The clients selected a new framing scheme for the artwork, and our conservation framing included Japanese tissue hinges adhered with reversible wheat starch paste, acid-free backer and mat board, and GroGlass ARTGLASS 99, offering 99% UV protection. The watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley is once more looking its best, and is properly preserved for the future. The owners have it displayed in their home once again, and one day will pass it down in their family.  

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

If you have an artwork that has been damaged by flooding or another catastrophe, don't hesitate to contact us to discuss restoration options. You may think there's little hope to reverse the damage, but it never hurts to get a professional opinion; we're not miracle workers, but quite often conservation treatment can dramatically improve a damaged work of art.

Check out our portfolio of treatments, or contact us today.

Conservation Treatment of a Bird's Eye View of London, 1872 Lithograph Print

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada,  1872, before conservation treatment. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada, 1872, before conservation treatment. 

Book and Paper Conservation Services recently had the privilege of restoring this wonderful early Bird's Eye View map of London, Ontario, Canada. The detailed colour lithograph print, dated 1872, resides in the collection of Western University Archives, which holds extensive records of London's history.  

History

The map is an illustrated vision of the city from a bird's eye perspective, a common theme in the late 19th century. It was drawn by the artist E. S. Glover, and produced by Strobridge Lithographing Company, in Cincinnati, OH.  It would have been distributed in London and purchased by prominent local citizens at the time for display in homes and businesses.

Detail of the 1872 map showing streets of London, Ontario, and the Military Garrison in what is now Victoria Park.

Detail of the 1872 map showing streets of London, Ontario, and the Military Garrison in what is now Victoria Park.

The map illustrates significant buildings in the city as of 1872, such as the Covent Garden Market, Labatt Brewery, and the military garrison, situated on land which is now Victoria Park. The locations are numbered in a key in the bottom margin. The map is extremely interesting as a historic document because it depicts a number of streets and locations which no longer exist or have since been renamed. 

 

 

When it arrived at our studio, the map suffered from a variety of condition issues. After examination and consultation with University Archivist Robin Keirstead at Western's Archives and Research Collections Centre, an extensive treatment protocol was determined. During the course of conservation treatment, the print underwent almost every process in a paper conservator's repertoire; it was an extremely satisfying project for our studio. 

Condition

The map was produced by a lithographic printing process on machine-made wood pulp paper, a typical paper but prone to discolouration over time. Sometime in its life, it had been mounted to a black pulp board backer, a very acidic material which had further contributed to the overall yellowing and brittleness of the paper. It also exhibited pronounced discolouration in vertical bands across the image, as well as extensive tears and breaks in the paper and minor losses around the perimeter.

Tears and losses along the border of the print.

Tears and losses along the border of the print.

Creases and breaks distorting the surface.

Creases and breaks distorting the surface.

In short, it was in urgent need of conservation treatment to keep it from deteriorating further, and to restore its original detail and vibrancy.

Conservation included surface cleaning to remove dirt and grime. 

Conservation included surface cleaning to remove dirt and grime. 

conservation treatment

The conservation treatment to address these damages included several stages. First, the print was surface cleaned to remove loose dirt and grime, and then the acidic backing was painstakingly removed with a scalpel and metal spatula, working from the verso to avoid any accidental damage to the print. 

Next, the print was washed and light bleached to brighten the paper tone. The yellow discolouration products were removed from the paper in this process, returning the image closer to its original colouring and removing the distracting bands of stain from the print. It was also deacidified to halt further deterioration of the cellulose.  

The Bird's Eye View of London is washed and deacidified to remove discolouration.

The Bird's Eye View of London is washed and deacidified to remove discolouration.

Once washed, the lithograph was lined onto a new, stable backing of Japanese paper, to provide support and repair the breaks and losses. This backing will not cause discolouration the way the old board did, and will help the print remain stable while also being slightly flexible.

Wash water becomes progressively less yellow as the print is cleaned. Behind, the washed and lined lithograph is visible brighter. 

Wash water becomes progressively less yellow as the print is cleaned. Behind, the washed and lined lithograph is visible brighter. 

The Bird's Eye View of London, after washing and lining on a stable Japanese paper backing. 

The Bird's Eye View of London, after washing and lining on a stable Japanese paper backing. 

The final step in the conservation treatment was to inpaint losses to the printed image where cracks and breaks had disturbed the surface. Using watercolours and a delicate brush, the image was restored.

Inpainting to restore losses in the printed surface.

Inpainting to restore losses in the printed surface.

The restoration of this beautiful historic artifact was extremely successful, and the satisfying results can be seen below.  The paper tone has been brightened, allowing the image to be viewed without distraction; the damages have been repaired and print is supported and stabilized with a new backing. It has been returned to the Archives where it will be stored and preserved in ideal conditions, and can be accessed by future researchers and interested Londoners for years to come. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada,  1872, before and after conservation treatment. 

Bird's Eye View of London, Ontario, Canada, 1872, before and after conservation treatment. 

Art conservation is an extremely satisfying occupation, and Book and Paper Conservation Services was very pleased to have contributed to the preservation of this important artifact. If you have historic or archival materials or antique prints that you are interested in having restored, don't hesitate to get in touch with our studio. There is no charge for a consultation, and we are always happy to discuss conservation options with you.