Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Profile Head, 18th-19th Century
Oil on cardboard/heavy paper
Conserved in 2015-2016 with Support from the Stockman Foundation
Condition Prior to Treatment:
Construction: A panel of heavy paper, or thin cardboard has been used as a support for an oil painting. There is a pencil sketch of what appears to be the same bearded figure on the reverse.
Condition: The reverse of the support has become quite brown with age. There are creases/surface plane distortions near the upper left corner, lower left corner, upper right corner, and along the right edge; in each spot the support has been bent slightly forward. There is a ½” diameter surface distortion that protrudes out from the surface plane, near the bottom edge.
Construction: Rich vehicular oil paint has been thinly applied to an unidentified priming. The brush texture ranges from smooth to slight. The paint layer contains small, particulate lumps of pigment scattered overall. The paper surface is smooth.
Condition: Previous cleanings have revealed many small, white lumps of pigment particles in the paint mixture. It is likely that many of the white lumps were originally surrounded by the paint mixture and not quite so visible. Ultra violet light reveals large dabs of repaint in the background, foreground and at the edges. Smaller dabs of repaint are visible in his face and in the background. There are paint losses along some of the creases in the support.
Surface Film: Multiple layers of thick, natural resin varnish have turned very brown and distort paint colors but still saturate the paint layer adequately. Ultra violet light reveals that there are more layers of varnish in the background, and foreground, while some varnish has been removed or reduced during previous restoration in the area of the figure. Extensive flyspecks, and/or staining from fly specks, is visible in all light colored paint: his face, beard and chest. There are traces of older grime and varnish lodged in paint interstices, beneath the current varnish layer. Masking tape has been applied to the edges of the reverse and to a triangle of cardboard behind the upper left corner. The edges of the front and reverse have been covered with what appears to be black electrical tape.
Conservation Treatment (2016):
Paper conservator Susan Duhl removed the masking tape from the reverse before this treatment began.
Insecure paint in his cheek, at his beard line, was consolidated with Beva 371 conservation adhesive.
The electrical tape was warmed with hot air and slowly pulled away from the paint surface. With the removal of the tape a triangular cardboard insert in the lower left corner became loose, attached to the main body of the support by only a thin, paper mend on the reverse. A small piece of archival linen tape was adhered to the reverse to better attach this insert, but it remains vulnerable.
The discolored varnish layers on the surface were removed or reduced with the appropriate cleaning agents. Removal of the obscuring varnish revealed old repaints in the background and lower corners.
Old repaints were removed or reduced with appropriate cleaning agents. Minor traces of repaints remain in some areas; these were flattened with a scalpel while viewing the surface under magnification.
Remnants of grime and varnish lodged in paint interstices were reduced with appropriate cleaning agents.
Fly speck deposits and stains from fly speck deposits were significantly reduced with appropriate cleaning agents. As predicted, some stains from fly specks remain after treatment.
The surface distortion near the bottom edge was reduced. In order to introduce moisture to the cardboard reverse, the oil or varnish coating the reverse was scratched in areas of the distortion to allow moisture to penetrate.
An isolating layer of Beva UVS Finishing Varnish was applied overall. An isolating layer of PVA AYAA/AYAC (polyvinyl acetate, Union Carbide) was applied overall.
Paint losses were filled with pigmented, microcrystalline wax.
Paint losses, abrasions and fly speck stains were inpainted with pigments in PVA AYAA/AYAC.
A final layer of Beva UVS Finishing Varnish (Regalrez) was applied overall.