by Serena Urry, Chief Conservator
This small round painting, attributed to the studio of the 17th century Dutch artist Frans Hals, was recently in the paintings conservation lab to have its discolored varnish removed. The wooden panel measures just under a foot in diameter, and is about a 1/4” thick. Here it is half-cleaned.
Wood shrinks and expands in reaction to changes in humidity. In a painting on panel, the unsealed reverse shrinks more than the painted front, which is protected by layers of gesso, media, and varnish. This often leads to warping in the direction of the wood grain. The result is typically a painting with a convex surface.
Fortunately, this little panel is only very slightly warped. Because for some reason, the artist chose to orient the head in a twist. The wood grain runs at a pronounced angle to the boy’s head, rather than in the vertical or horizontal direction, which would be much more typical. The grain is very prominent though the boy’s face, so it is an unusual choice on the part of the artist, one for which there is no easy explanation. It’s just twisted!
Studio of Frans Hals (Dutch, 17th c.), Head of a Laughing Boy, 1620s or later, oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Davidson in memory of Eleanore Z. Edwards, 1973.450