Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Cracking up

While this photo might invite captions about Polly wanting a “crack-er”, our paintings conservator is performing actual conservation work.  This is a detail from “The Turkish Page (Unexpected Intrusion)” by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) as it is being prepared for loan.  Because Chase added oils, resins and varnishes to his paint to get the effect he desired, many of his works cannot be cleaned by conventional methods.  In this painting his materials resulted in deep, dark and wide drying cracks through much of the composition.  The cracks were likely formed because the different paint layers dried at different rates.  The cracks cannot be undone or reduced, and often they are quite visually intrusive, affecting the way the painting is read by the viewer.  In this case, the cracks across the pink cockatoo and the page’s torso visually flatten the forms.  Our paintings conservator is filling a limited number  of these deep black cracks with a white fill material.  Once the fills are cleaned up and leveled, she will inpaint on the fills with conservation paints to match the surrounding original.  The cracks will still be visible in most areas, but the three-dimensional character of the scene should be very much improved.