Drama in a conservation studio

When the painting arrived to my studio it was tightly attached to its frame between a matte glass and a paperboard on which the canvas was glued.

Artist: Carl Johan Bengts, Woman in red dress sitting  in artist’s chair, 1911, oil on canvas, glued on paperboard, ,79 x 50.

Photo 1, Before treatments. Photographer Matti Huuhka.

First problem: Three different areas of loose or actively flaking paint on lower left side.

Second problem: How to get the frame away because it was impossible to turn painting facedown for the loose paint flakes.

Third problem: How to get loose and flaking paint to reattach into its original place when the use of airflow was not possible for the paperboard, which prevented any kind of use of a suction table.

Photo 2, Detail of the flaking area. Tuulikki Kilpinen

Fourth problem: How to protect the surface during the treatment.

Fifth problem: It became very soon obvious during the aqueous cleaning process that practically whole painting needed consolidation before cleaning, because paint got loose in tiny pieces everywhere. See Photo 1, Photo 2


I ordered a low frame with three edges, two long ones and one short one, the fourth was missing. I covered the frame with a piece of Kapa-board. The frame’s measures matched well with the painting size. With the aid of the frame the painting was in safe from an uncontrolled movement of my hands or wires until consolidation treatments were done.

I managed to get the frame away by working under the table, because the board was luckily fixed with tiny rhombus form nails.  I removed them one by one when the frame was partly laid over the table edge by feeling with hands. Removal of the glass needed extra careful precautions in order to prevent loose paint particles to move with airflow.

Fixing of the paint with fish glue.

I have to start the treatments with fixing paint surface with 2,5 % fish glue with the aid of Japanese paper and warm spatula.

Special treatment of the flaking and loose paint areas needed another method with syringe and sucking. A glass syringe with a silicone tube was tightly attached around the flaking area; warm liquid of light fish glue with alcohol was dropped between loose paint flakes.

Photo 3, Working with class syringe on a flaking area. Tuulikki Kilpinen

After awhile the syringe was laid over and I caused vacuum by sucking slowly air away through the tube. It worked well.  This treatment was one of the last in the color fixing. 

Photo 4, After paint fixing was completed. Tuulikki Kilpinen

Cleaning of the surface was done with 2% triammoniumcitrate in water. The first new varnish layer was laid on the surface.

Photo 5. After the removal of Japanese papers and surface cleaning, Tuulikki Kilpinen


I made restoration with water colors and watercolor pens (ASTM D 6901 standard) on the damaged spots.

They were leveled with chalk powder in a rabit glue solution (5%). Both surface leveling and the restoration were tedious to do. I was and I still am satisfied with the final result.

Photo 6, After the leveling of the chalk fillings. Tuulikki Kilpinen

 This treatment was one of the most challenging during my whole career. I received the most valuable piece of advice via colleague Maija Santala, who has learnt the use of syringe from conservator Tony Reeve, the National Gallery, London. He was our dear friend.