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Painted portrait restoration requires special skill and training, particularly if a painting is in unstable condition. Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Murals, and Polychrome surfaces at McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory has such experience, ranging from the treatment of large scale murals to conservation of modern paintings to portrait restoration.

Art Conservation Cleveland Public Art
Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Polychrome Surfaces, and Murals of McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory

An artwork in need of portrait restoration recently came to McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. The painting was an oil on canvas by artist Sidney E. Dickinson dated 1933. It is a striking portrait of a young woman dressed in a divine lavender gown.

Portrait, 1933 by Sidney D. Dickinson, before treatment

Unfortunately, at some point, the painting suffered severe tear damage and significant paint loss. A major tear in the canvas extended along three sides of the painting as well as a vertical tear just at the sitter’s left. Several other smaller tears are observed too. The damage also resulted in distortions and bulges in the canvas.

A detail shows the extent of the tears and distortions before treatment

For Conservator Dedecek, the conservation treatment would be challenging and time-consuming; however, he was confident the portrait restoration would both stabilize and improve the overall aesthetic of the oil painting on canvas. Compared with the condition of this portrait before treatment, Stefan Dedecek’s conservation results are striking.

The first step was to locally consolidate insecure flaking areas of paint on the front of the painting. The painting was faced with Japanese tissue paper and removed from the stretcher. The paint film was consolidated overall from the reverse using additional adhesive.

The distortions in the support were flattened using a controlled application of moisture and pressure over time. Tears were mended using adhesive and linen pulp. The painting was then lined onto a new linen fabric with a heat seal conservation-grade adhesive. While lining is considered an invasive treatment option, in some instances like portrait restoration of the Sidney Dickinson painting, the extent of damage requires a lining procedure.

During treatment, the painting has been lined and the areas of loss filled

After lining, the conservation treatment is not yet complete. Areas of loss where either the primer layer or paint film is missing must be treated. Compensation of losses or inpainting is necessary to recreate the visual continuity of the overall image. Again, due to extent of the damage, the filling and inpainting procedure would be challenging and time consuming.

Conservator Dedecek carefully filled areas of damage then applied an isolation varnish. The treatment continued with inpainting the many areas of loss, and a final layer of varnish was applied to revitalize the original color of the painting as well as protect it. The frame and stretcher were also treated.

The after conservation treatment results of the portrait restoration returned the painting to a nearly original appearance. It is now stable and the sitter is ready for her close-up.

Portrait, 1933 by Sidney D. Dickinson, after treatment
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