Case Study

"Dutch Orphans Reunited"

Govaert Flinck "Group of Figures"
Before Treatment


April 9, 2009 to August 7, 2009

Pinpoint losses were weak and unstable. These areas were individually stabilized using a 1:10 gelatin adhesive. The liquid adhesive was applied warm using a small sable brush. This initial step allowed treatment work to continue without risk of further loss. (9)


The cleaning of an oil painting involves the removal of discolored surface films and all areas of non-original paint. An understanding of paint chemistry is required to remove the films without injury to the surface. This work is carried out under binocular magnification using cotton swabs and appropriate solvents. The recent upper dirt film was removed using a mild pH-neutral detergent and its neighboring varnish was removed using a weak organic solvent.
A pH-neutral detergent was also used to remove the older dirt film. When viewed through a microscope, it was apparent that former restoration work was intermixed with the oldest varnish layer. This final layer was directly on top of the paint surface. Varnish removal began from the right side of the painting. Oil paint becomes milky as it ages. As a result, darker tones will appear blanched or bloomed after cleaning. Later revarnishing reinstates their original richness. The below left images document the color change that resulted from removing the discolored surface films, while the right images offer a corresponding detail.

Full View During Cleaning

Detail During Cleaning

Full View During Cleaning

Detail During Cleaning

Full View During Cleaning

Detail During Cleaning
Removal of the overlaying films and former restoration paint from the left figure revealed a green canvas insert. The original canvas was lost in this area and the former restorer elected to introduce a section from another painting as a replacement. This addition was out of context visually but did offer a canvas weave similar to the original support. As a result, the insert was left in place.

Patch Insert

A lining canvas was previously attached to the back of the original support using an aqueous adhesive. The adhesive had dried unevenly over time, causing canvas stress and paint loss. In order to stabilize the original support and consolidate all areas of loose paint, the painting was removed from its stretcher and the old lining and adhesive were removed. A new canvas was then attached to the back of the original using a non-aqueous adhesive. This process was carried out using standard hot-table procedures at 138 degrees Fahrenheit and one inch of mercury.
Although this image shows a different painting on the lining table, the treatment procedures were identical. The painting is covered with a gray PVC sheet and a slight vacuum is created from a vacuum pump mounted on the underneath side of the table. The table heats up just above the mastic point of the laminating adhesive joining the original support to the secondary canvas

Lining Table

It is most unusual to discover notes, labels, or inscriptions on the inside of a stretcher, the side next to the canvas. Most provenancial information is written on the back of the stretcher where it can be seen. When the canvas was removed from the stretcher a number of discoveries were revealed.
All of the members were numbered and marked for reassembly. In addition, there was an illegible penciled inscription along the top horizontal member that appeared as "Mr. S [illegible]". The stretcher size, 48" x 40", was inscribed in light-blue chalk along the bottom horizontal member.

Reassembly Number 8

Reassembly Number 3

Mr. S [Illegible]

48 x 40 Stretcher Size

Detail Strecher Size
Two ingrained "G. Morrill   Liner" stretcher stamps were also revealed on the vertical cross member. George Morrill took over the London picture lining business of Francis Leedham in 1857. Upon his death in 1865, the business was renamed and taken over by his son, William. These facts place the stretcher's fabrication, and presumably the former lining, within a very small window of eight years between 1857 and 1865. (10)

G. Morrill   Liner

After relining, the painting was restretched onto a new spring-stretcher using copper tacks. These stretchers have the ability to expand and contract under varying humidity conditions offering constant and even canvas tension. Stresses from environmental changes are absorbed by the corner springs as opposed to the canvas or paint.

Spring-Stretcher Corner

Filling has two purposes. It prevents further damage by sealing the edges of holes, tears, and cracks. It is also used to reproduce a sympathetic surface with respect to plane and texture. Areas of former loss were filled with gesso, a mixture of marble dust, and a 1:7 gelatin adhesive.

A brush coat of Windsor & Newton non-yellowing varnish was applied to the paint surface. Varnish is applied for several reasons. First, it reinstates the richness of the paint by allowing the darks to have their proper tone. Second, it keeps dirt and air pollution off the picture surface. Third, the surface coating protects the paint layer from damage caused by abrasion, moisture, and accidental accretions. The varnish also creates an ethical buffer between the original paint layer and the retouching or inpainting. Conservators do not paint directly on the original paint surface. The work is done on top of an isolating varnish and can be removed by simply removing the underlying varnish. The below image documents the painting's appearance after relining, stretching, filling, and varnishing, and before retouching.

After Varnishing---Before Retouching

Retouching is carried out to correct visual irregularities caused by inherent structural problems or surface damage. Its purpose is to reduce or eliminate these inconsistencies. (11) It is applied only to areas of loss and should never extend over the original paint. The retouching was completed using Maimeri conservation pigments. These pigments are both color- and light-fast offering confidence that the restoration areas will remain consistent over time. Also, the pigments are soluble in mineral spirits. This relatively weak solvent permits safe and easy removal without risk of injury to the paint surface.

Detail Before Retouching

Detail During Retouching


August 7, 2009
After retouching, the application of a final, non-yellowing spray varnish completed the treatment. The treatment work was carried out over a four-month period.

Detail Before Treatment

Detail After Treatment

Detail Before Treatment

Detail After Treatment

Detail Before Treatment

Detail After Treatment

Govaert Flinck "Group of Figures"
Before Treatment

Govaert Flinck "Group of Figures"
After Treatment
(9) References for consolidation, cleaning, varnishing, and retouching from the author's 2005 Case Study, "A 1938 Portrait of Adolf Hitler."
(10) Information on George Morrill taken from Web article, British Picture Restorers, 1630-1950, (accessed October 4, 2010).
(11) Filling, varnishing, and retouching purposes from Morton C. Bradley, The Treatment of Pictures (Cambridge: Cosmos Press, 1950).


Table of Contents, Biography, Provenance, Examination, Treatment,
Fortune Shines


Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532