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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Still Life in Blue with Lemon by Paul Cézanne

by Conservation


CAMConservation , paintings conservation , Impressionism , impressionist , French immpressionist , Paul Cezanne

This pint-sized painting by Paul Cézanne came to Conservation for a quick cleaning a few weeks ago.  The still life had already been varnished when it was acquired in 1967, but it is almost certain that the coating was not applied by the artist.  Like many French Impressionist artists, Cézanne usually did not varnish his paintings.  In consultation with the curator of European art, our paintings conservator decided to remove the varnish and so return the still life closer to its original appearance.

conservation lab

Removing the varnish from a painting affects the appearance of the paint layers, particularly in the case of an artist like Cézanne, who employed pigment mixtures that dry to a rather matte surface.  In this image, taken during treatment, the cleaned right half of the still-life is visibly cooler in tone.  

Cleaning Cézanne’s still life

After the varnish was completely removed, the painting needed minimal inpainting to cover a few small old losses to the paint.  Now that the original surface is unvarnished, there is no new isolating varnish to separate the retouching from the original, so the inpainting was done with water-soluble paints.

Cleaning Cézanne’s still life

The still life after varnish removal and inpainting has a surface that is more characteristic of a painting by Cézanne.

Painting after treatment

Because the painting is now unvarnished, it was re-framed with high-quality, optically clear glass before being re-installed.  Be sure to stop by Gallery 227 to see Still Life in Blue with Lemon after its visit to Conservation.

completed restoration in a new frame

 Paul Cézanne (France, 1839- 1906,) Still Life in Blue with Lemon, circa 1873 – circa 1877, oil on canvas, Bequest of Mary E. Johnston, 1967.1425