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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: American or French?

by American School


behind the scenes , conservation , works on paper , watercolor , French School , American School

drawing of a large sailboat at sea


The name and nationality of the artist of this watercolor and ink drawing is unknown, but we know from the inscription in the lower right that it was drawn August 10, 1811. When Frigate came to the paper lab, it was obvious that it had had a difficult journey before it arrived at the museum in 1958. Aside from multiple stains, the paper had pronounced distortions in the top corners, probably from a time before it was glued to the tan paper backing and when it was in a smaller frame that prevented even expansion and contraction of the paper with changes in humidity. Surface grime was also a problem. The drawing is shown here with the left half and the bottom right corner cleaned of grime. While the grey layer of grime helped mute the stains, it also made it difficult to see the blue watercolor washes in the sky. After reducing the grime as much as possible with dry cleaning methods, the backing could be removed and wet treatment could begin. The drawing was cleaned on the suction table with controlled amounts of water applied with an air brush and, in the most heavily stained areas, with a brush. Washing on the suction table helped reduce the distortions in the sky, but the paper still required humidification and pressing. The many stains remain after treatment but they are less severe. See this drawing with other folk art drawings from the museum’s collection in Gallery 212.


Image Credit: French or American School, Frigate, 1811, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 3/8 x 15 5/8 in. (28.9 x 39.7 cm), gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fleischmann in memory of Carol R. Guggenheim, 1958.348.