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Dr. George Joseph Bell

Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A.

Dr. George Joseph Bell, 18th Century

Oil on Canvas

71-P-85

Gift of Dr. William Serri

Raeburn, the first Scottish painter to earn an international reputation, was a self-taught portraitist of the 18th century. His work primarily featured Edinburgh professionals and Lowland lairds and their wives. His naturalistic style, strongly influenced by English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds, is developed through square, emphatic brush strokes applied directly to the canvas and a warm, almost ruddy color palette. Raeburn’s portraits, usually half-lengths like this one of Dr. Joseph Bell, are frontally lit against a somber background and provide immediacy with the sitter. 

Condition of the Artwork (2009):

The paint has fine lines and stipples of old, poorly matched inpainting in his face, and at the edges of his face and white shirt; these spots of inpainting probably cover old abrasions. The inpainting in his chin is particularly bad. The paint layer has been slightly abraded at the edges of, and in the shadows of, his face, by the previous cleaning. The paint at the edges has been dented and abraded by the frame. 

Ultra violet light reveals multiple layers of glowing natural resin varnish covering most of the painting. Varnish has been reduced in the area of his face. Areas of the paint layer covered by the frame were not varnished as often. A grey, hazy pollution layer has been deposited on the paint surface. Bits of the frame rabbet have become embedded in the surface at the edges. 

Conservation Treatment Proposed: 

  • Remove/reduce the grime with the appropriate cleaning agents.
  • Remove/reduce the degraded varnish with the appropriate cleaning agents. It may not be possible to completely remove the varnish layers because paintings from this period are often sensitive to cleaning agents.
  • Remove/reduce inpainting with the appropriate cleaning agents, if possible.
  • Apply an isolating layer of a conservation quality varnish overall.
  • Fill and inpaint paint losses and abrasions with conservation quality materials.
  • Apply a conservation quality finish varnish overall.
  • All materials used will be appropriate and conservation quality. All work will adhere to the highest standards of the field. 

Estimated Cost of Treatment:  $4,000.00