Art Conservation: Preserving the Past

by Don Murchison, Painting Conservator


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Have you ever wondered how the museum restores rare objects and works of art? Find out by using the accompanying photographs of H.G. Glyde's painting, Carrying the Cross.

Look at the paintings on this page and compare them. Notice the man missing a face. You might think this is damage but in fact the artist never completed this painting and scraped off the face in order to make changes.

Before Treatment: Carrying the Cross, ca. 1930s, by H.G. Glyde

Before Treatment: Carrying the Cross, ca. 1930s, by H.G. Glyde


The first step required in the treatment was to identify its true damages. It was obvious the painting had suffered water damage in its past. This can be seen by the horizontal drip lines in the "before treatment" photo. Now imagine water running down the surface of the painting and carrying away the water soluble paint in the process.

Reversibility is an important principle of conservation. Any material used in conserving an object must be removable. In other words, it can be removed easily without causing any damage to the original material. Because Carrying the Cross was created with water soluble paint, I applied an isolating varnish before retouching. This isolating layer will make it possible to remove the retouching without affecting the original paint.

After Treatment: Carrying the Cross, ca. 1930s, by H.G. Glyde

After Treatment: Carrying the Cross, ca. 1930s, by H.G. Glyde

You will see in the "after treatment" photo that the horizontal drip lines are still detectable, but much less obvious than before. To eliminate them completely would require retouching over the original paint. This would be unethical and compromise the integrity of the work. In this treatment, I tried to reduce the disturbing damages that took away from the enjoyment of this masterful, but never completed artwork.

Carrying the Cross is just one example of the conservation work performed at Glenbow Museum.

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