art conservator

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.

Book Conservation: A 19th Century Carte de Visite Photograph Album

19th century carte de visite photograph album - conservation treatment

At Book and Paper Conservation Services the variety of objects we treat is broad, but they all have one thing in common - the owners or stewards of the objects have deemed them important enough to be preserved. We often receive objects of fascinating historical significance, and learning about the provenance of the item is one of the thrills of the job for an art conservator. 

An intriguing item came through our studio recently - a 19th century carte de visit photo album with an interesting theme and provenance. The album is from the collection of The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album, during conservation treatment.

History & Context

Although it was most recently part of the library of Bishop Ryan, the album originally belonged to Bishop Crinnon, who was the 2nd Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton from 1874 - 1882. An inscription on the front free end paper indicates it was a gift presented to Crinnon in London, Ontario, in September 1864, when he was a dean of the Diocese of London. It was gifted by Fr. Joseph A. Kelly, a Dominican Friar serving at the time as the prior of St. Peter’s Church in London. Crinnon obviously brought the album with him when he transferred to Hamilton, where it eventually joined the collection of the Diocese.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album before conservation treatment.

The album contains 89 cartes de visite displayed in specially made pages, inserted through slots in the bottom of two stiff sheets of cardboard and visible through die cut portrait openings. A large number of the photographs depict ecclesiastical figures, some identifiable and some not. Several of the cards have the sitter's name included, either printed on the card or inscribed by hand. It is an intriguing portrait collection of clergy from the early 19th century.

Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Bishop Crinnon carte de visite album, showing a spread of pages featuring portraits of clergy.

Cartes des Visite

The album is an example of a popular collecting trend of the second half of the 19th century, but with an important twist of theme and local significance. The carte des visite, a photograph mounted on a piece of card the size of a formal visiting card, was a common way to immortalize both celebrities and ordinary people, and they were produced by photographic studios around the world. Sitters would have cards produced for friends and family, and purchase or trade images of important personalities including royalty, politicians and men of arts and letters. 

Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

Carte de visite from the Bishop Crinnon Album of Rev. Edward Gordon, first Vicar General for the Diocese of Hamilton

Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

Verso of carte de visite, with inscription in graphite and logo of the Notman Studio, Montreal, Canada.

In the case of this album, the collector has compiled a group of photographs featuring ecclesiastical figures, along with some other notable heros of the day. The portraits may have been commercially distributed - much the way postcards are bought in souvenir shops today - or may have been gifts from personal acquaintances of the collector, especially if he was involved in the Roman Catholic community. Many have logos of photography studios in Canada printed on the verso, including ones from London, Hamilton and Toronto. There is at least one from the well-known Notman Studio in Montreal. The album is rich with historical context and provides an interesting opportunity for a study of Roman Catholic clergy in Canada in the late 19th century; the Archives of the Diocese of Hamilton are currently exploring the album's history. 

Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Carte de visite - Canadian photography studio logo on verso
Page 6 - Photo 2 - Verso.JPG

Conservation Treatment

The album arrived in our studio in rough condition. The main issue was damage to the binding, caused by years of handling of the inherently delicate materials; there was also a fine layer of grime on all of the materials, dulling the vibrancy of the pages and photographs.

Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

Facing paper lifting from a page with the weight of the album.

Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Delicate cloth lining has broken at joint of the final page. 

Photograph albums were manufactured in a variety formats in the 19th century, and a careful study was made of the mechanics of this particular album in order to understand the structure and to design an appropriate repair solution. The fabric lining attaching the thick card pages together had torn at the joint of the final page, a location which received a lot of strain whenever the album was accessed. As well, the weight and motion of the pages had caused delamination of the facing paper at several locations throughout the album. Repairs needed to be sympathetic to the original binding, while providing strength and stability, and still maintaining the mechanical action originally intended. 

New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

New endbands were applied, in a style that matched the fragments of the originals.

Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste was used to line the spine and repair the joint, the spine was strengthened with a new card stiffener, and new endbands were applied, in a style matching the remnants of the original materials. The binding and pages were surface cleaned to remove the grime, and each photograph was carefully removed from its slot, cleaned, documented on both recto and verso, and replaced. 

Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

Each photograph was carefully cleaned, on both recto and verso, before being documented and replaced in the album.

The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

The binding was cleaned to remove surface grime. 

Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

Before and after surface cleaning of the pages and gilding around the edge of the album.

The end result allows the album to be opened, carefully and with proper support, so that the cartes des visite can be viewed by researchers at the archives. The repairs have restored the original function of the album, and the cleaning has rejuvenated the portraits. Preservation of the photograph album will allow it to remain in the best possible condition for future study and appreciation, and we are very pleased to have worked with the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives at the Diocese of Hamilton to preserve this interesting artifact. 

After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

After conservation treatment, the Bishop Crinnon carte de visite photograph album is clean and stable. 

If you are interested in conservation for archival materials in your own collection, don't hesitate to get in touch with us. We provide conservation and restoration for documents, photographs and rare books, and we'll work with you to devise a preservation strategy to meet the needs of your object. Check out our portfolio of treatments and contact information below.

Art Conservation: David Milne Watercolours

David Milne watercolour painting - art conservation

David Milne is one of Canada's most iconic artists, and his sparse, evocative style is seen to great advantage in his watercolour paintings. But as with any art on paper, Milne's works are very susceptible to damage and deterioration. Book and Paper Conservation Services recently restored three David Milne watercolours for the Art Gallery of Windsor

Big Moose , David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Staining and mat burn disfigure the image.

Big Moose, David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Staining and mat burn disfigure the image.

The three works on paper are part of a bequest given to the Gallery by the Estate of Leslie Stibinger, and had not previously been displayed. Moisture and poor storage conditions before acquisition by the gallery had resulted in mould and mildew stains in the paper, as well as mat burn around the perimeter of all three artworks.

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; before conservation, dramatic staining in the upper right quadrant disfigures the work. 

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; before conservation, dramatic staining in the upper right quadrant disfigures the work. 

Last Snow of Winter , David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Mat burn around the perimeter was the worst damage to this piece. 

Last Snow of Winter, David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Mat burn around the perimeter was the worst damage to this piece. 

Verso of  Last Snow of Winter , showing tape and adhesive residue, before conservation treatment.

Verso of Last Snow of Winter, showing tape and adhesive residue, before conservation treatment.

The watercolours came to Book and Paper Conservation Services for conservation treatment in the summer of 2017, in advance of the exhibition 'Blazes Along the Trail': Exploring David Milne’s Imaginative Vision, running October 21, 2017 – January 28, 2018. The Gallery was eager to include these three works in the show, but wished to have them restored to their best condition before display. 

The stains in white areas of the paper disfigured the images and distracted from the viewers' appreciation of the composition. The mat burn around the perimeters hindered the works from being displayed to their outermost edges, and the remains of acidic tape and adhesive on the reverse of the works were causing long-term deterioration. These issues were addressed during the restoration of the works.

Testing treatment of mat burn on  Weed Mines , David Milne.

Testing treatment of mat burn on Weed Mines, David Milne.

Stain reduction on  Weed Mines , David Milne.

Stain reduction on Weed Mines, David Milne.

Removal of tape and adhesive residue from verso of artwork.

Removal of tape and adhesive residue from verso of artwork.

Cleaning and stain reduction in progress on  Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper.

Cleaning and stain reduction in progress on Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper.

After extensive testing of the media, paper and stains, a treatment protocol was proposed that included surface cleaning, local stain reduction using chemical bleach, and mechanical removal of the adhesive tape. Over the course of several weeks, the treatments were painstakingly executed to restore the works to Milne's original vision.

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; stained area before and after conservation.

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; stained area before and after conservation.

Big Moose , David Milne; staining before and after conservation treatment.

Big Moose, David Milne; staining before and after conservation treatment.

The three watercolours have been stabilized and preserved, and now that they are back in the care of the Art Gallery of Windsor, they will remain safe for future generations to enjoy. These works, along with a number of other paintings and prints by Milne, are on display in the exhibition 'Blazes Along the Trail': Exploring David Milne’s Imaginative Vision until January 28, 2018. 

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation treatment. The staining across upper area of image has been dramatically reduced, restoring the integrity of the artwork.

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation treatment. The staining across upper area of image has been dramatically reduced, restoring the integrity of the artwork.

Big Moose , David Milne, watercolour on paper; conservation treatment has reduced stains so they no longer detract from the image.

Big Moose, David Milne, watercolour on paper; conservation treatment has reduced stains so they no longer detract from the image.

If you would like to read more about Milne's art, the AGW's collection, and the conservation treatment of these watercolours, you can access a free e-publication produced by the Gallery to accompany the exhibition, available on their website. Book and Paper Conservation Services was pleased to contribute an essay on our work conserving the Milne watercolours.

Last Snow of Winter , David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation, mat burn has been eliminated so the image can be viewed out to the perimeter. 

Last Snow of Winter, David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation, mat burn has been eliminated so the image can be viewed out to the perimeter. 

We are happy to work with both public institutions and private collectors to preserve important cultural objects for the future. View our fine art conservation portfolio to see other projects completed at the studio, and contact us anytime to enquire about restoration of works on paper in your own collection.