Painting on canvas | Conservation treatment | Ethics | 13.mar.2013

Do conservators repaint areas where the original paint is missing on an old painting?

The answer is both yes and no. It depends on the nature of the loss.

If the original paint is totally missing in a limited area, the conservator will usually fill the hole with fill putty. The conservator will take great care to match the texture of the fill to the texture of the surrounding paint, and may use a range of techniques to achieve this. On the top of the fill, the conservator may make a base tone, possibly in watercolour or gouache. This will often be slightly lighter than the original colour. The actual retouching will usually consist of one or several thin layers of paint comprised of stable modern pigments bound in a synthetic resin. It could be Mowilith 50, a polyvinyl acetate, Paraloid B 72, an ethyl methacrylate copolymer, or Gamblin Conservation Colors, which are bound in a Polymeric resin consisting of aldehydes. These resins will be easier to remove in future and their colour will change very slowly compared to, for example, old-fashioned oil paint retouchings or retouchings bound in natural resins. We do not overpaint the original paint, and only ever apply retouchings where the paint is missing: this is called "inpainting".

Another type of loss in a painting could be that a thin paint layer was cleaned away or abraded during a previous (long ago!) restoration, or the paint may simply have lost its colour by bleaching or alteration caused by light or the atmosphere. Since we can not know how intense the colour of this glaze may have been, we do not normally replace it with a new one. This would involve too much guesswork.

Yours faithfully,
Anne Haack Christensen
Painting Conservator, Cand.Sci.Kons.

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