Harriet Cany Peale (American, 1800-1869)
Father's Return, c. 1850
Oil on Canvas
Conserved in 2014 with Support from the Stockman Family Foundation and the Art Angels
Condition Prior to Treatment (2013):
Support Condition: The painting is, for the most part, in plane but has slight rolling surface distortions. The canvas has become somewhat fragile. There are insufficient tacks in the tacking edge to properly attach the canvas to the stretcher. The top 8” of the left tacking edge has pulled away from the tacks and is no longer attached to the stretcher. An approximately 1” diameter hole in the sky just above the mother’s head has been patched from the reverse with a canvas patch and an unidentified adhesive. The surface plane is slightly distorted in the areas of the patch. There is a tear (probably from a framing nail) in the top tacking edge at 9 1/4” from the left edge; this tear is only slightly visible from the front.
Paint Layer Condition: Careful examination under magnification reveals that many areas of the painting have been repainted to hide both contracted islands of original paint, old paint losses and abrasions from a previous cleaning. Areas of paint on the child’s red dress, mother’s blouse and apron, and green landscape contracted into small, islands of pigment as the paint layer dried. Cleaning tests reveal that the white priming has been exposed around at least some of the contracted paint islands, hence those repaints. Close inspection of the paint layer reveals that repaints also cover abrasions in the mother’s face & hands and in the figure of father. Repaint in the mother’s forehead, neck and temple are particularly clumsy. Filling and inpainting in the area of the repaired puncture has an uneven appearance.
Surface Film: The thick layer of natural resin varnish has turned quite brown with age. Most of the dull varnish is quite degraded and no longer saturates the paint layer. The varnish covering the bottom 1 1/2” of the painting was covered by a frame, so it has discolored but is less degraded; it saturates the paint layer better and has retained a fair amount of gloss.
Conservation Treatment (2014):
Although the canvas layer is fragile, the surface plane is fairly good and the canvas is largely intact. It is desirable to preserve the visibility of the signature on the canvas reverse at this time, so a lining is not recommended. Staples were added to the tacking edge to properly attach the painting to the stretcher. The degraded varnish layer was removed. Old grime beneath the varnish layer was reduced. The repaints were reduced. This revealed exposed priming around paint-shrinkage islands and old abrasions to the original paint layer. The filling material in the patched area was reduce. The patch was removed from the reverse to further improve the surface plane. Removal of the patch and filling material revealed that a previous restorer had cut out a section of canvas around what was probably a tear, before applying the patch and the filling material! A section of excess canvas was cut from the tacking edge to fill in the cut out section and adhered in place with Lascaux Canvas Welding Adhesive. The surface plane in the area of the patch remains slightly distorted in a convex direction. An isolating layer of a PVA AYAA (polyvinyl acetate, Union Carbide) was applied overall. Paint losses were filled with pigmented, microcrystalline wax. The surface texture in the area of the patch remains slightly different from that of the surrounding paint. Paint losses, exposed priming around the contracted paint islands, and abrasions were inpainted with pigments in PVA AYAA/AYAC. A final layer of Beva UVA Finishing Varnish was applied overall.