A woodcut in a bath - preparation of a 468-year-old hunting scene
As part of the preparation of artworks for the museum’s current woodcuts exhibition, many different prints emerged from storage and passed through the conservators’ workshop.
German deer hunting from the 16th century
Among the many works were Michael Ostendorfer’s (German painter, illustrator and woodcut maker, 1490-1559) illustration of deer hunting in the Löss Forest from 1543. The woodcut is composed of three blocks mounted in a false margin (secondary paper frame glued to the edges around the work) with a separate, inserted text panel on top. In total the work consists of 6 composite paper parts, which together measure 122 x 36 cm.
The woodcut came from storage unframed and folded with two continuous vertical folds, one of which was so torn that only a small portion held the pieces of the work together. The tear has made the paper more vulnerable to dirt and mechanical decomposition, and the area around the damage is clearly seen as a continuous brown line down through the work on the right side. In addition, the woodcut also became very discoloured in the form of a general yellowing of the paper, while a very conspicuous water stain could be identified in the work’s upper half (especially visible on the back).
Drag the arrow and see the difference in the work’s front side before and after treatment. The left picture shows the work before treatment ...
French laundry and ironing
It was sad to see the detailed deer hunting scene disappear amongst the discolouration, blotches and wrinkles, and the woodcut was calling to the conservator for some care and attention, and subsequent mounting. The work's many paper parts were put together nicely, and the print appeared relatively flat. It was therefore decided to retain the existing composition of the three blocks and the false margin and to clean the work as one coherent piece. This did, however, create an additional preservation challenge, since the different papers react differently to rising humidity and can form undesirable deformations in different directions depending on paper type, fibre orientation, condition, etc..
The surface of the work was first cleaned with a dry soot sponge that gently removes dirt deposits from the paper's surface. It then underwent a thorough wet-cleaning with deionised water in stages on a low pressure table where much of the discolouration was reduced. The cleaning was carried out under a vacuum that pulls the moisture more quickly through the paper and thus makes treatment more concentrated and controllable. The blotched areas were worked on more intensively and we succeeded in removing the very disturbing stains along the edges.
Drag the arrow and see the difference in the work's backside before and after treatment. The left picture shows the work before treatment ...
The drying process
During the drying of the work, after the wet-cleaning, the many composite paper parts complicated the process. It was therefore necessary to re-hydrate the whole woodcut, so that all of the parts were saturated with deionised water, and then dry it uniformly between thick blotting paper. Monitoring, adjusting the pressure and frequent replacement of the blotting paper were necessary to get the many paper pieces to dry flat without detaching at the joins. The result was very satisfactory: both the discoloration and the stains are now cleaned, and folds from storage are realigned.
Subsequently, the long vertical tear was stabilised with Japanese tissue and adhesive (tylose in demineralised water), and the work was security stamped with its own KKS stamp on the back.
For better protection of the woodcut in the future, the work was next hinged on a supporting backboard consisting of dyed paper pasted on 1200 g of acid-free cardboard (product from Per M. Laursen). The hinging was performed in a so-called float mount from all quarters, where strips of Japanese tissue were attached the back of the work and passed through the backboard where the other end of the strip was fastened. This provides flexibility, giving the paper the freedom to move, according to natural climatic conditions and other influences. The woodcut was then framed permanently in a new wooden frame with space behind the glass.
The work can be seen in the current exhibition Woodcuts - from Dürer to Tal R from 16 April - 4 September 2011