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Putting a Delacroix puzzle back together

Back in the mid-nineteenth century the French artist Eugene Delacroix created this drawing of The Archangel Michael Vanquishing Satan. The drawing was executed in graphite (pencil) with washes in black, white and red. It is one of several preliminary studies for a ceiling mural in the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and today the drawing is part of the collection of French art at Ny Carlsbergs Glyptotek in Copenhagen.

The drawing has been mounted on a secondary paper support, and it is interesting to note that part of the motif has been drawn onto the secondary support paper. The drawing itself was executed on thin paper with no chain lines or wire lines; it is presumably a piece of tracing paper that the artist mounted on top of the support paper and then continued working on. Thus, the drawing on the support paper may have acted as the basis for further reworking of the subject on the tracing paper.

Before conservation: The complete drawing seen in symmetrical light

The underdrawing seen in symmetrical light

When the work was taken for conservation in 2016 it was in very poor condition. The paper was strongly discoloured (yellowed) and suffered from extensive embrittlement. It had split in countless places, leaving the drawing in several hundred pieces, small and large. At some point parts of the drawing had been subjected to facing, and the thin tracing paper had separated (delaminated) from the secondary support paper. There were areas where the pieces of paper overlapped, areas where the paper had split and formed several layers, and in many places the paper was lost altogether.

The media layer had been broken in those places where the paper split. In several places, part of the media layer has been lost along with the lost paper, and in other places the top layer of paper has flaked off, taking with it the media layer.

During conservation: Facing almost removed. Notice that the paper lies in pieces with both recto and verso facing upwards.

Treatment

The drawing was placed on a transparent piece of Perspex and the many paper fragments put together like a puzzle, placing them as closely together as possible. The general deterioration and deformities of the paper and the missing pieces meant that it was not possible to ensure an exact fit between all splits, tears and pieces.

Tegningen set under konservering efter at forsidesikringen er fjernet.

Given the extreme deterioration of the paper, it was decided that no aqueous adhesive would be used. Instead, a piece of Japanese paper was prepared with an acrylic adhesive, 498 HV from Lascaux, which is a thermoplastic adhesive with a melting point around 45 degrees Celsius.  498 HV is soluble in ethanol, which allows the conservator to use both heat and solvents to activate the adhesive and attach the drawing to the auxiliary support.

The drawing was transferred to the prepared Japanese paper, ensuring that the back of the drawing was positioned directly onto the thermoplastic adhesive. The adhesive was activated by means of ethanol applied with a brush in order to avoid subjecting the deteriorated paper to heat.

Loose and partially overlapping pieces of paper were secured with a synthetic adhesive (Klucel G; hydroxypropylcellulose) dissolved in ethanol.

Having secured the drawing on the new mount, the old facing was removed by means of ethanol, scalpel and tweezers. The facing left behind numerous fibres, which were carefully removed by means of scalpel and tweezers.

Gaps and lacunae were subsequently filled in with a “paste” made out of paper fibres mixed with methylcellulose. Prior to this the paper fibres had been heated on a frying pan to varying degrees, causing them to colour in accordance with the time of “frying”. The results were fibres of seven different colour nuances (ranging from white to cream to light brown, darker brown and dark brown). The losses were then filled in so that the dark areas and areas with lines drawn on them were done in dark colours, whereas the base colour of the paper were done in light brown or brown shades, while areas with white, transparent layers of media were filled in using light/white fibres.

 

Closeup of the drawing during conservation.

Closeup of the filling of the lacunes with paper pulp.

Apart from stabilising the work, the objective of this restoration is not to retouch the drawing, but to fill in losses by means of paper fibres in shades that allow the eye to progress smoothly between the lines and media layer of the drawing so that the drawing – and especially its subject – appears as more of a whole to the observer.

After conservation: Detail of the angel's head. The splits are still visible up close but they blend in so you're able to see the motif better.

Efter conservation: Detail of an area that had earlier been subjected to facing after filling with toned paper fibres.

 

Updated: 23.may.2017
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