A family together again

Grust, Family Scene, Before Treatment, Normal Illumination

Sometimes mishaps occur. Aged canvases can be exceptionally brittle, and when a fall or impact occurs, the result is usually a wide, gaping tear. The canvas fibers are pulled in the process and distortion occurs to the area of damage. The treatment of this fireside scene by F.G. Grust (1859 - 1909) illustrates how seemingly disastrous damages can be repaired. The painting took a fall and hit a chair, resulting in a large, L-shaped tear in the center and a small, C-shaped tear on the left side. The impact to the center caused the torn canvas to fold, resulting in a sharp crease and loss to the paint layers. The two details below show the major areas of damage.

The tears were first locally humidified to reduce the distortion of the canvas and strong crease. The painting was then removed from the stretcher and applied to a working strainer. A working strainer allows for complete access to the reverse, for overall humidification treatments and mending. The painting exhibited major distortions to the canvas, with some areas appearing to pre-date the damage. Seen at an oblique angle, the distortions are visible in this before-treatment image.


While on the working strainer, the painting was completely humidified on a heat/suction table to reduce the planar distortions. In this process, the painting is placed face-up on the surface of the table. A thin film is used on the surface, with weights applied to the edges, to supply a seal for the vacuum cups. Suction is pulled through small holes cut into the film layer.  Once the humidified painting is completely dry, the suction can be removed.

After the painting canvas and tear were adequately planar, the painting was re-stretched, and the two tears were mended by joining the broken ends of the canvas using a combination of wheat starch paste and sturgeon glue. Losses in the paint layer were filled, and the paint layer was then cleaned of dirt and discolored varnish. The first image below shows the painting on its working strainer, during the overall humidification process on the heat/suction table. The second image shows the painting following cleaning and ready for inpainting.

Before inpainting, the surface must be re-saturated with a varnish layer.  Inpainting is undertaken using pigments bound in a synthetic resin, as to ensure its reversibility, should the need arise. The treatment briefly described here, though complicated, was extremely rewarding. The great details found in the charming family scene can now be fully enjoyed. The images below illustrate the painting before and after treatment.

*All images are courtesy of the owner. Please do not reproduce or use the images without permission.