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Making Oudry's Lion Whole Again

When I stand back and look at the completed restoration of a painting that I worked on, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Our work as conservators should be invisible and appear effortless, so in the end it's hard to believe that you put in all those hours to get to that final point.

That describes how I feel when I look at Jean-Baptiste Oudry's Lion—and I was only involved in the retouching stage of the multi-year conservation project. You can imagine how Tiarna Doherty, the lead conservator for Lion, felt when the painting was finally ready to be framed and hung in the galleries.

Conservation work on Oudry's Lion  
Our group completes the final work on Oudry's Lion. Left to right: Tanya Thompson, Tiarna Doherty, Laura Rivers, me
Photo: Gene Karraker

When I became involved in the treatment, much had already been done over three previous years. The tears in the canvas had already been carefully mended—in some cases original threads were re-attached to one another, and in other cases new threads were attached to the originals and woven into the canvas structure under the microscope. The obscuring old varnish had been thinned, and the losses in the paint had been filled with a white gesso putty.

My task then became to help inpaint the losses so that the painting looked whole again. The retouching was done in layers to replicate Oudry's paint application and to achieve the right optical effect.

We started with a base color of burnt sienna gouache to mimic the color of the painting's ground. On top of this we used paint specially made for restoration to apply the final scumbles and glazes to match the surrounding original paint.

I was part of a team of conservators who retouched the painting, which is usually a solitary activity. But because the painting is so large, as many as four of us could work on Lion at the same time, as you can see here. It was fun to get to chat with one another while inpainting and to collectively watch the patches of gouache disappear. Watching the losses disappear and the painting reappear is simply magical.

Re: Making Oudry's Lion Whole Again

What was used in the glaze medium? Linseed & varnish?

Re: Making Oudry's Lion Whole Again

Conservators use materials for inpainting that are reversible and can be easily removed from the artwork without harming it, so we use paints that are different from what the artist originally used. To that end we use a paint for glazing with a binder consisting of a low molecular weight synthetic resin that remains easily soluble as it ages. The varnish we use also consists of a low molecular weight synthetic resin that is very reversible. We do not use linseed oil as a binder because over time it becomes very insoluble which is good for artists, but not for conservators.

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