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What are you looking at? Conserving a Portrait of a Young Anne Bellows

by Cecile Mear, Conservator of Works on Paper


paper conservation , lithograph , Anne Bellows , George Bellows

George Bellows created this charming portrait of his older daughter Anne in 1921 when she was 10 years old. (The date inscribed at the bottom is 1924, however, the “4” was written with two different pencils, indicating that “1921” was later changed to “1924.”) To help Anne look her best for CAM’s fall exhibition, George Bellows: American Life in Print, she stopped by the Paper Lab for conservation treatment.

The lithograph is printed on thin Japanese paper with a smooth surface. Gummed fabric tape was adhered around the front edges, and the paper had a distinct yellow-brown stain across the center. The tape, originally used to stretch mount the print to preserve the paper’s smooth texture, contributed to buckling around the edges. Thick adhesive on the back caused distortions around the hinges in the top corners. The line between the discoloration and the unstained margins came right up to the design in the lower left and right.

I was able to remove the tape and hinges after softening the adhesive with water.  Using a scalpel, I carefully lifted the attachments, taking care not to pull up paper fibers during removal. Some adhesive had soaked into the paper and remained behind after I had removed the tape. I washed the print in several different aqueous solutions to minimize the adhesive and even out the paper color. With the stains removed, it was time to slowly humidify the print and dry it under weight. Drying between smooth matboard and wool felt restored the smooth surface of the paper and eliminated the distortions caused by the tape. Anne and other members of her family will be on view in this major exhibition of George Bellows prints from October 25, 2024, through February 9, 2025.