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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Overpainting vs. inpainting

by Conservation

12/12/2019

Thomas Wilmer Dewing , Maria Oakey Dewing , inpainting , overpaint , retouching , paintings conservation , conservation , behind the scenes

Conservation of this painting on wood panel by the Dewing husband-and-wife team was undertaken because the retouching on the painting had discolored.  Done before the painting was acquired by the museum in 1968,  the retouching had turned white.  “Blanched” retouching is usually the result of chemical reaction in the white restoration paint.  Conservators use more stable pigments today. 

When the varnish and retouching were removed, it could be seen that the painting had been retouched with a very heavy hand.  Many of the losses to the paint were tiny, the result of small movements in the wooden support that had caused the paint to flake off over time.  But the retouching was broadly painted over existing original paint.  This is called “overpaint.”

The detail from the lower right foreground before conservation shows that the blanched overpaint covers much more than just the tiny losses.  It masks the translucency of the original paint and the red-brown hue of the wood panel, something the artists left revealed.  Modern conservation practice is to “inpaint,” or to retouch only in the areas of loss.  The detail on the right, after conservation, shows the losses inpainted.  The translucent character of the original painting is now visible again.