Conservation of The Battle of Hanau

The Battle of Hanau by Horace Vernet
The Battle of Hanau by Horace Vernet (1789–1863)
Oil on Canvas
60.96 × 104.14 cm (24 × 41 in.)

 

Discover how we recently conserved an oil painting damaged by water.

At Bowood House, conservation and restoration are an essential part of recognising and celebrating our past.

Severe weather can have a devastating effect on the fabric of historic houses, and heavy rainfall can overwhelm the guttering, leading to water penetration into the interior.

This happened at Bowood when, during a storm, water ran down the back of this painting by Horace Vernet. It rapidly saturated the lower part of the canvas, causing the glues from the sizing and lining to seep through the cracks to the front of the painting.

(Damaged area of canvas, photo by Dr. Cathryn Spence)

Swift action by the curator meant that any resulting canvas shrinkage and paint loss was minimal, but as the canvas dried out, the brown, translucent pearls of animal glue hardened.

Bowood appointed Rosalind Whitehouse to rescue the artwork. She removed the old canvas lining and glue that had been destabilised by the saturation, applied a new lining using conservation adhesive, and cleaned and fully restored the painting.

(Showing water saturated areas of stretcher, keys and canvas, photo by Dr Cathryn Spence)

Whitehouse trained in painting conservation at the National Gallery before going into private practice in East Anglia, where she worked for public and private collections and churches in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. She has been awarded some notable commissions, such as cleaning and restoring Constable’s Millstream for Colchester and Ipswich Museums and an altarpiece by Leandro Bassano from Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge.

Water flow lines on canvas

Water flow lines on canvas

 

Glue pearls x 30 magnification

Glue pearls x 30 magnification

 

Whitehouse explains:

It is now standard conservation practice in Museums, Churches, and National Trust properties to fit back protection to paintings. This involves fitting protective material to the back of the picture in its frame. This could be Tyvek fabric, hardboard, twin wall polycarbonate sheet or clear acetate sheet. This protects a canvas or panel painting from flood, rapid environmental changes, knocks during handling and storage, and pollutants.

Small wooden blocks are also fitted to the lower back corners of frames to lift the frame away from the wall, and provide free airflow behind the picture, avoiding condensation on the front of a painting which has a cooler temperature behind it.

These are inexpensive measures that prevent much damage. Glazing of frames is also an excellent safety measure, although more time-consuming and expensive than the measures listed above.

For anyone wishing to learn more about the glue process, please listen to Rosalind’s recording.

 

The restored painting, which forms part of the Bowood House Napoleonic Collection

 

The restored painting, which forms part of the Bowood House, Napoleonic Collection, is on view in the Orangery during the forthcoming visitor season.