The Cape Ann school of painting has always been a source of inspiration for me. I learned to paint in Gloucester while my family summered there, and the excitement of living in an art colony formed my ideas about painting and artists.
Now that I have several decades of perspective on what empowers the Cape Ann artists, I realize that they successfully blended Impressionism and Realism, and enlivened it with a dynamic sense of composition.
What that means is that they loved the physicality of thick, buttery paint, skillfully used complimentary colors, and designed their canvasses to provide an active, energetic visual experience.
A few months ago I acquired a masterful 1928 Gloucester harbor view by Henryk Francis Twardzik (1900-1992). It needed to be cleaned, but it also had some condition issues which required stabilization of the canvas.
When an oil painting on canvas ages, a pattern of craquelure (cracks) often develops. It shows up as a tracery of fine lines running over the entire surface. If the canvas is strong and the paint is flat, craquelure is usually stable, and not a problem. It even adds a desirable antique look to many works.
Twardzyk’s paint was perfect Cape Ann, thick and buttery, holding the marks of his stiff bristle brushes. While that is a desirable characteristic, it can also be problematic. The paint layer on this painting is as thick or thicker than the canvas support. The painting had heavy cracks, and all of the little islands of paint were cupping and pulling on the canvas
The remedy for this requires two steps: First, a vapor treatment to relax the paint and flatten it, and then lining the painting onto a new support, which is usually a polyester canvas interleaved with a sheet of mylar.
The new lining covers the back of the canvas, and while that is normally not a problem, this painting was signed and dated on the back, and obscuring the artist’s markings would be undesirable.
In a smaller, lighter painting I would opt for lining on transparent Mylar, with a translucent polyester mesh layer to reinforce the tacking margins. However, this one measures 30″x25″ and the paint layer makes it as heavy as a much larger painting, requiring a firmer support. Also, the layer of mesh would fuzz-out the strong, crisp signature.
I opted for an unusual solution. The heavy-weave canvas needed a good bond to a firm, transparent surface. I decided on a sheet of 1/8″ Plexiglas, and a thick cushion of transparent adhesive to fill the coarse weave and provide full contact with the smooth plexi.
Here is the process used: A diluted solution of the normal mounting glue, Beva 371, (a heat-set liquid) was first applied to the back of the canvas. It soaked in, to fill any cracks in the painting ground. It also penetrated into the larger cracks in the paint. (This is referred to as consolidating the paint layer.) The next day, after that dried, a normal coating of Beva 371 was added to the back of the canvas. The Plexiglass was sanded on the side to face the painting. After another day of drying, several sheets of Fusion 4000 (a heat-melt adhesive) were added to the back of the canvas.
Note: The Beva melts at a lower temperature than Fusion 4000, The two adhesives have different properties when they are set. The Fusion 4000 becomes a flexible and waterproof sheet of archival plastic, providing a barrier between the plexi and the painting. The Beva remains flexible, but not uniformly solid. The Fusion 4000 forms to the contours of the canvas and the sanded plexi before setting. The Beva provides a barrier which prevents the Fusion 4000 from fully bonding with the canvas fibers, making removal of the Fusion 4000 easier if needed.
A layer of polyester mesh was cut to overlap the tacking margins. The center of the mesh was removed so that only about 1/16″ around the edges would be covered by the plexi sheet.
Once all the pieces were assembled, everything was tacked in place with a hot iron. Then it was placed into a vacuum table, the air evacuated, and the temperature brought up to melt the adhesives. After the bonding, the heat was turned off and the painting cooled for about an hour in the vacuum.
After lining, the painting was cleaned. Luckily, only one small paint loss needed to be in-painted. A clear, non-yellowing varnish brought out all the colors. When dry, the painting went back into the spray booth and the plexi received a coating of mat varnish, to make the view of the canvas beneath look like it was unlined.
The new polyester mesh edges were tacked back onto the original stretcher, and a protective backing was cut to fit, with a window opening to show the signature and date.
Learn more about this painting at http://www.rubylane.com/item/1007038-3224E/1928-Gloucester-Harbor-Marine-Oil