Visit the Conservator

A French Master Drawing

Financed by the special appropriation of the Ministry of Culture for the conservation of works of Unique National Importance our paper conservators have carried out preventive conservation of the museum’s French master drawings.

Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-91), Landscape around the Drac River near Grenoble, 1880 Watercolour with black chalk, 220 x 467 mm

Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-91), Landscape around the Drac River near Grenoble, 1880

The Achilles’ Heel of watercolours
If you hang a newly painted watercolour on a sunlit wall, it will change into a pale reflection of itself in the course of a few years - sometimes even after a few months. Transparency is a prominent characteristic of watercolours, but at the same time its weak point. The finely applied colour pigments in the watercolour have been drawn out into a thin layer on the surface of the paper. Thus each colour grain is unprotected against the bleaching effect of light.

Originally the heaven was bluer

Before the artworks come into museum custody, they have often hung in frames on the walls of the artists, their family or friends, in galleries and with private art lovers. J.P. Jongkind’s watercolour from 1880 was bequeathed to the museum in 1976. We can see from the work that it has been framed because 1 cm at the top of the paper has been covered by the frame or the passe partout.

The colour pigments here have been protected against light so that a very intense blue colour has been preserved in this part of the picture. We can also see that the picture has been damaged by the framing cardboard behind it, whose acid content has had a yellowing effect on the original paper. Thus the heaven was bluer and the paper whiter when Jongkind finished his landscape painting in 1880.

How do we preserve delicate artworks on paper?
Naturally we wish to prevent the irretrievable loss of colour from works like this through preventive conservation. The paper conservators protect paper and colour pigments by providing the works with new passe partouts made from acid-free cardboard.

The works are then put into in acid-free cartons and placed in the climatised museum stores until the next special occasion when they are brought up into the light.

A French master drawing
In 2006 the watercolour together with a large number of other master works on paper was on display in "French Master Drawings". Since the exhibition closed we've been hiding it away from the decomposing daylight, so that it may also bring pleasure to future visitors and conservators.

Written by
Anja Scocozza
BSc in conservation, art on paper

The museum owns more than 245.000 artworks on paper. Find out more about The Royal Collection of Prints and Drawings

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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