Who are we Kidding?
When you are offered an artwork described as “oil on paper laid on canvas”, you should know that this is a code for conservative disaster, which to my regret is prevalent in our region.
The motivation for use of this technique is of course (as you probably guessed) financial.
This act of “abuse” towards the artwork is allegedly performed to upgrade it to a status of “almost an oil painting on canvas”.
So what is the problem here?
We all know the phrase “the strength of a chain is determined by the strength of its weakest link”. In our case, the main problem, as I see it as a restorer, is technical: when gluing paper or cardboard on cloth, then the base, i.e. the paper in this case, is the weakest link. The paper remains exposed from the front or from behind or on both sides! And it is therefore vulnerable.
A painting is a complex whole that is usually composed from a number of components, for example, an oil painting on canvas includes (or should include) about 5 layers: the canvas itself, on which a layer of sizing is applied, on which there are one or two layers of a base (Gesso), and above which of course the layers of the painting itself are applied. Above these there should be some sort of protective coating known as “varnish”. If sufficient time has passed there is usually also a layer of dirt – varying according to environmental conditions where the artwork is housed. Most papers included as part of an artwork should be protected behind glazing or undergo a process of stabilization with the help of special resins.
From an ethical viewpoint this can only be performed by the artist himself, because it constitutes an intervention in the creative process itself and usually causes a visual alteration.
If you have already decided to “upgrade” an artwork that you possess, then it is important to do this correctly. First, it is necessary to stabilize the foundation (the paper on which the painting is performed) with the help of substances that will make it resistant to climatic influences. Since paper and canvas expand and shrink in exactly opposite directions, meaning that when humidity rises the paper and wood expand while in the main different types of painting canvas shrink, it is undesirable to join them, and preferable to place paper on a plywood board, that had been properly prepared and protected. The thickness of the plywood should be adapted to the size of the artwork.
By the way, with regard to the adhesion, in relation to dozens of artworks of this type which have reached my hands, I have found that this was performed in the best case with “PVA” glue and in the less happy case with “contact glue". But neither of them meets the criteria for proper conservation, because the conservative processes should be reversible.
For those who have an art treasure that they consider precious, which has been “upgraded” as described above, it may be very worthwhile to have it for examined by an authorized professional art conserver.
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