This talk presented the recent work done by Sandra Webster-Cook on a painting by the Parisian artist Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779). The author treated Jar of Apricots (1758), an oval oil painting on canvas in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project also included a thorough study on the painting’s materials and Chardin’s working techniques.
Jar of Apricots traveled to Europe in 2010 to be exhibited next to its pendant, Cut Melon (which remains in a private collection and has reportedly never been restored) at the exhibition “Chardin: Painter of Silence”, shown at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, in Ferrara and at the Museo Nacional del Prado, in Madrid. Here Webster-Cook was able to study the two paintings together, aiding in her future treatment decisions.
Once the painting returned to Canada analytical work was done at CCI, including XRF, Raman and the collection of a small paint sample. The cross section of this sample revealed a double ground layer which Chardin typically used in his paintings: a red layer directly on the canvas and a grey imprimatura layer above it.
The pigments found in this painting were also typical of Chardin’s palette from 1730 to 1766. The ground layers contained carbon black, Prussian blue, iron oxide red, chalk and lead white. The reds were identified as vermillion and red lake. The lemon in the composition was found to contain vermillion and orpiment. Some lead tin yellow was also found in the bread loaves. The blues were a mixture of Prussian and ultramarine, a pigment combination characteristic of Chardin’s work. In areas of modern overpaint cadmium was found.
Examination of the painting revealed some pentimenti. Additionally, on the ceramics some of the flower decorations appear to be wiped or smudged, perhaps with solvent. On Cut Melon a similar technique was observed, and some solvent drips were even found.
Jar of Apricots had been treated previously, perhaps more than once, it was lined and had a synthetic resin varnish. The drying cracks had been filled and there was extensive old overpaint. Also, some modern blue-green paint was found, emerging through the cracks in the paint layer from behind; it appeared unrelated and extraneous to the previous treatment campaign and its presence could not be explained.
Webster-Cook’s treatment consisted of removing the varnish and reducing the overpaint and fills. The varnish and most of the overpaint were easily reduced with organic solvent but the fills (made of a pink waxy material) were more tenacious and required mechanical action. Some of the fills were not completely removed, but rather mechanically reduced to level with the painting’s surface. The painting was re-varnished with dammar and retouching was done with Paraloid B-72. The drying cracks were not re-filled but some inpainting was done to reduce their appearance. The treatment resulted in significant aesthetic improvements to the painting.
The project was a collaborative effort between curators, scientists and conservators. A video about the project is being made for museum patrons, highlighting the complex decision making process and collaborative nature of the conservation of paintings.