Redivivus in museums' collections
Updated: Jun 2, 2021
by Gwendolyn Boevé-Jones, Ginny Nouwen, Bianca Gonçalves
Studio Redivivus have had the priviledge to work in close collaboration with museums and galleries all over the Netherlands. These partnerships have brought works by the most celebrated artists through the studio doors- from the greats of the Dutch Golden Age such as Aelbert Cuyp, to modern masterpieces by artists like Salvador Dalí. In this blog we present some of the most impactful treatments that we have engaged with, whose results can once again be fully appreciated on the gallery walls. Take a look below to see some of the discoveries we made about Jan van Ravensteyn’s painting technique in the Haags Historichs Museum, or how we filled the losses of Bram Bogart’s volumous and tactile ‘VertgroenVert’ at the Voorlinden Museum. Share with us the magnitude of Willem Drost’s ‘Cimon and Pero’ at the Rijksmuseum, and the smallest details in Cornelis Vroom’s ‘River Landscape’ at the Mauritshuis.
JAN DE BRAY, St. Lucas Guild of Haarlem
This group portrait depicts the governors of the Guild of St Luke in Haarlem in 1675. The artist, son of architect and poet Salomon de Bray, has painted his own likeness within the group (second from left) and that of his brother Dirck’s in the upper right.
When it was treated by Studio Redivivus in 2016, conservation efforts were focused on securing the areas of vulnerable, lifting paint and improving the appearance of the painting, which suffered an uneven darkened varnish and a large campaign of mismatched retouching. The varnish proved difficult to remove – residues of a partially removed and extremely oxidized varnish layer lay on top of the mature oil paint film, and it was hard to distinguish the solubility boundary between the two. Thankfully, by carefully manipulating solvent application, an even surface could be achieved. A new varnish was applied to the surface to saturate the colors and provide depth. We feel that this effect is particularly felt in the deep, rich blacks which were so carefully textured by Bray.
AERLBERT CUYP, VOC Senior Merchant
This painting, depicting a Dutch East India Company (VOC) merchant, is possibly Jacob Martensen, his wife, and an enslaved man holding a pajong, is one of the most archetypal images of the Dutch Golden Age.
The portrait captures a view of the harbor of Dutch Batavia, now known as Jakarta, in the middle of the 17th-century; the height of Dutch colonial prosperity. As a deeply emblematic image of its time, this painting is often at the center of discussions surrounding post-colonial scholarship.
Over time, the painting’s ground layer had started to delaminate from its canvas support, its surface coatings had darkened, and it had incurred broad passages of mismatched retouching. In order to preserve this record of Dutch 17th century life, it was necessary to address these issues when the painting came to Studio Redivivus for treatment in 2016. After the initial consolidation of the vulnerable paint layers, the old, oxidized varnish layers could be removed. The mismatched overpaint was then targeted, revealing the remarkable remnants of two angels scattering flowers over the Dutch fleet.
The paint beneath the angels appeared to have aged in a different way to the surrounding paint, and the extensive craquelure seen around the area had not developed there, suggesting that they had been painted into the composition quite early in its creation. We can only speculate as to why the angels were removed, perhaps it was because they appeared inconsistent with other paintings by Cuyp, but our knowledge of their inclusion and subsequent removal may yet prove an important aspect of this painting’s narrative.
WILLEM DROST, Cimon and Pero
This rare painting by a pupil of Rembrandt, Willem Drost, is long-term loan to the Rijksmuseum from the Broere Charitable Foundation and can be seen in the museum’s Gallery of Honour.
This 1655 painting on canvas is the largest known composition of Drost’s, and was treated in Studio Redivivus in 2018/19. When the painting had entered the studio, it appeared heavily overpainted and had been reduced in size when its turnover edges were folded back in a past restoration campaign. During its treatment it became evident that the old overpaint and in-fill material had been applied very generously over the original composition, without much regard for the subtle detail of the shading in the flesh and costume. The folded turnover edges also saw a continuation of the background color, hidden from view during the re-sizing. The varnish and overpaint removal were accomplished through gentle solvent application – manipulating the narrow boundary between the solubility of the varnish and overpaint, and the sensitive original paint. The unfolding of the original tacking edges also required careful consolidation and gentle moisture treatment to reduce deformations from its long-term configuration. This was successfully achieved using Sturgeon glue and the careful application of moisture and weights. The sides of the painting were then reinforced through the application of fabric and adhesive at each edge – a process called strip lining – before it could be re-stretched over a more appropriately sized stretcher. Retouching was carried out in a manner that would be sympathetic to the original composition, with a focus on disguising damages.
With its original size and coloring restored, we hope you can join us in our appreciation of the painting’s monumentality and enlarged presence – both physically and psychologically.
Haags Historisch Museum
JAN VAN RAVESTEYN, De Magistraat ontvangt de officieren van de Schutterij in de Sint Sebastiaansdoelen 1618
This largescale treatment project of several paintings by Jan van Ravesteyn, a celebrated local portrait artist employed by the Dutch court, was undertaken by Studio Redivivus in 2012. All four paintings can now be admired in their fully restored states in de Schutterszaal (room 8).
The non-original framing of this large scene covered a considerable part of the painting along its edges, obscuring a very important part of the action. A painting illustrated above the mantelpiece on the right was only visible as a pair of feet – unframing the painting revealed an arrow protruding from one of the legs, establishing the subject’s identity as Saint Sebastian. This connects the painting to the building in which it is housed, the Sint-Sebastiaansdoelen. The painting had also incurred mechanical damage during framing, and featured a yellowed surface coating and mismatched overpaint passages, which required treatment.
During treatment it became clear that the painting is comprised of four canvases – the original and three duplications – with a patch of cloth at the top where a beam might have crossed in its original display conditions. With the removal of the yellowed surface coatings, details regarding the artist’s painting process emerged in the form of pentimenti (traces of earlier, abandoned compositions barely visible beneath the existing composition) – see the spearhead of Adriaan van de Burch or the third eye of William van Neek!
Another interesting detail is the discovery of 3 fingerprints in the artist’s collar (van Ravensteyn’s self portrait can be seen 2nd from the left, along the bottom row). This seems to have been a signature of sorts for van Ravensteyn, he signed the 1616 painting ‘The Officers of the Oranjevendel Leave the Town Hall on the Groenmarkt’ in the same manner.
We’re thrilled to have been directly involved in the re-presentation of this historically important painting. Check out the Haags Historisch Museum website to know more about this painting.
CORNELIS VROOM, River Landscape
Cornelis Vroom, son of seascape painter Hendrick Vroom, was admired in his time as a highly proficient landscape painter.
Not many of his paintings survive, so it was an honour to be able to treat this lovely example of Vroom doing what he knew best. This painting had been subject to numerous previous interventions, resulting in extensive abrasion on the left and in the bay and lifting paint corresponding to a deformation in the wood. The painting had also been heavily retouched and the surface coatings had yellowed. Studio Redivivus’s intervention in 2012 prioritised the securing of the vulnerable paint passages, before the old varnish could be removed. Although the resulting surface was very compromised by old abrasion and other damages, conversation with fellow conservators, curators and other experts help to clarify certain elements of the composition in the retouching stage. The landscape once more became a cohesive whole. Infra-red photography also highlighted the presence of underdrawing in the distant landscape – see if you can spot traces of a spire on the left hand side!
Singer Laren Museum
KEES VAN DONGEN, The Blue Hat
This charismatic image of a woman in blue forms part of the Singer Laren’s permanent collection after it was offered as a gift to Anna Singer, wife of American artist William Henry Singer.
This painting was brought for treatment after it had incurred some mechanical damage and covered in a layer of soot. The soot was successfully removed from the surface, an indentation caused by the scratch was carefully reduced, and losses to the paint were disguised in the retouching stage.
'The Blue Hat' featured in Singer Laren's most recent exhibition, 'Painters of Light', among other paintings treated by the Studio. Museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm tells us more about it in this episode of Singer TV.
ANTHONY ELLIGER, The Rape of Ganymede
At Studio Redivivus, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide excellent care to paintings in even the most inaccessible locations. When you are next at the Lakenhal Museum take a moment to look at the artworks that not only hang on the walls, but also those that are set within the building’s interior structure.
Anthony Elliger’s 18th century oil on canvas painting, for example, has been set into a four-lobed medallion structure in the ceiling. When water damage caused the delamination of paint, deformations in the canvas and the delamination of the lining, Studio Redivivus was able to set up a temporary space to facilitate its complicated treatment. First, a platform was built to be able to temporarily secure the most vulnerable areas using a weak adhesive and Japanese tissue paper. The painting was then brought out of its recess so that the more severe structural damage could be addressed. The flaking paint was consolidated, and the old filling material that had failed was removed and replaced with new material, and the old lining material was removed. Once the stretcher was reinforced and traces of mold were removed, the re-lined painting could be re-stretched and the painting’s aesthetic issues could be addressed.
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
SALVADOR DALI, Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages
Although the Boijmans Museum will be closed for renovation until 2026, it is still possible to see some of the collection highlights in various locations at home in Rotterdam, and abroad. However, the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen will also be accessible to visitors as of this year.
This surrealist double portrait by Salvador Dalí is perhaps considered one of his most significant artistic achievements. It underwent conservation treatment and technical analysis in at Studio Redivivus in 2011 when macro ring formations – which formed a whitish grey wax-like film over the surface - and discolorations proved too visually disruptive for continued display. The whitish film was identified as fatty-acid degradation deposits- a degradation phenomenon caused by the migration of the fatty acids within the paint film. After consulting with stakeholders and other experts in the field, the decision was made to mechanically remove these deposits using an electrical eraser. This enabled the removal of the substance without risk of damage to the original paint layer. Discolorations were then integrated during retouching.
The frames for this pair are also worth noting. They are an original construction made by Dalí to conform to the paintings’ silhouettes – they reinforce the form of the couples’ heads, a shape borrowed from the couple pictured in Jean François Millet’s ‘The Angelus’. They were carefully restored alongside the paintings and specially adapted to provide further support for the weakened multiplex panels.
Fans of Dalí can follow this pair’s trajectory as they make their way around the world. From June 12th to October 31st, 2021, the Couple will be on display in the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Wellington (NZ) for their exhibition ‘Surreal Art. Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.’
Head on over to the Boijmans website, or to their Vimeo channel, to discover more. If you want read about the degradation phenomena mentioned above, click to access Gwendolyn Boeve-Jone's article about the Zinc-Oxide Degradation and Misperceptions.
BRAM BOGART, Vertgroenvert
Working with contemporary art often means encountering artworks that push the definition of what it means to create a painting. Bogart himself expressed a desire to ‘break the stiffness of the square.’
From the late 1950s, he developed a way of painting that would help him to reach this goal. It involved applying a paint mass (by mixing with concrete), sometimes more than 10cm thick, onto a support which he laid flat on the ground. He also used a limited palette, exploring the effects of light, shadow, color and texture. ‘Vertgroenvert’ appears emblematic of Bogart’s very personal technique. Unfortunately, the artwork had incurred paint loss and abrasions, as well as an overall coating of superficial surface dirt.
The dirt was removed through careful and limited use of aqueous solutions, after which the large losses that had been salvaged could be re-adhered to the surface. Large losses for which the corresponding pieces could not be found were re-constructed with a filling material, which was color-matched to the overall composition. The reconstruction of the lost pieces brought back the semblence of a material unaffected by gravity.
PYKE KOCH, Vier Seizoenen
This group of paintings depicting the four seasons presented a series of unique challenges for the team at Studio Redivivus. The unexpected combination of materials and an uncommon artistic technique can cause a painting to develop condition issues as it ages.
The paint film is also particularly matte, which further compounds conservation efforts as any adhesives used to consolidate the powdery paint risk becoming visible as a stain or glossy residue. A solution was found in the use of Jun Funori – a Japanese consolidant extracted from red algae. A mixture of Funori and de-mineralized water could be misted onto the most vulnerable areas using a nebulizer, which gently stabilized the powdery paint without marking the surface.
In order to facilitate an effective treatment approach that is sympathetic to the materials used in the paintings, it is important to understand the artist’s materials and technique. A closer look under ultraviolet illumination (UV) gave some insights into Koch’s unusual method. The artist was seen to have re-worked his own compositions with broad cross-hatched strokes, particularly in the highlights. We were also fortunate enough to have access to the artist’s paint box and a used palette. They confirmed, on top of his known use of egg tempera and oil paint, his use of casein – a binding medium derived from milk protein.
PYKE KOCH, Daphne
We would be remiss not to mention Koch’s ‘Daphne’, a painting depicting the eponymous nymph from Ovid’s Metamorphosis at the moment of her transformation into a laurel tree. This was a theme close to Koch’s heart – he revisited it at least three times.
This painting of Daphne was in good condition but did have some minor structural and aesthetic issues when it was examined in 2018, again partially caused by Koch’s unusual technique. The painting, appearing yellowed by a noticeable layer of nicotine, was carefully cleaned to restore its cool palette.
RÉMY ZAUGG, Imagine you are standing here in front of me
Studio Redivivus also specializes in the treatment of modern and contemporary artworks. The conservation of color-field paintings such as this can be extremely complicated, not only because damages are more easily seen, but also because their composite materials often pose particular challenges. Acrylic paints contain components (aditives like surfactants that make the painting glossier or matte, for example) that remain water-sensitive even after the film has cured, limiting the use of water/aqueous cleaning agents for the removal of dark marks and scuffing. However, by carefully manipulating the pH and ionic levels of our solutions, it was possible to make one that would target the dirt layer while working within the paint film’s safe zone.
Never has Zaugg’s message been so poignant, but thankfully with the re-opening of museums, we no longer have to merely imagine standing in front of this painting.
Redivivus is pleased to be part of the cultural fabric here in the Netherlands, and we hope that our ongoing collaborations with museums and galleries at home and abroad continues to facilitate the safe and responsible enjoyment of art.