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Treatment of the frame for 'On the Fringe of the Desert'

detail of repairs to the back of a corner of the frame, with thin slivers of wood inserted into the wood to support it

Softwood packs stabilising the frieze

After the initial assessment, the frame was cleaned and along the bottom edge the damaged gesso was carefully scraped back to reveal the wood underneath. The frieze, or internal frame that held the actual painting, which had been a little loose, was secured using softwood packs. Areas of cracked gesso and loose decoration were treated with rabbit skin glue.

detail of damaged frame corner, with missing parts replaced with a plaster-like substance

Newly applied and smoothed gesso

New gesso was made to replace the losses. It was made from a traditional mix of rabbit skin glue and whiting. This was applied initially as a thin layer, with a thicker, putty-like layer added over this. Finally, the new gesso was smoothed and sanded to match the surrounding areas.

both sides of a rubber mould used to replace a section of the missing decorative details at the edge of the frame

The silicone rubber mould used to make replacement decorations.

In order to replace the decorative composition around the edge of the frame, it was necessary to make a mould from a section of remaining original decoration. It was decided to make the mould from silicone rubber, as this would stand the repeated use of casting almost the entire border.

Detail of frame corner, with missing details replaced in a contrasting material that has not yet been painted to match the rest of the frame

The new replacement decorations.

A traditional gilders mix was used to make the replacement ornament. This was cut and fitted whilst still flexible and fastened using rabbit skin glue. Although cracks were cast into the replacement composition, they were also simulated where necessary, using a scalpel.

These new areas were then coloured, using bole clay and watercolours to match the originals. On top of this, new gilding was applied. This gold leaf was then distressed, using wire wool and pumice powders to blend in with gilding already there.

Empty frame looking as good as new

The frame after conservation

The outer corners and edges of the frame, in particular the bottom edge, were distressed to simulate wear that would have naturally occurred throughout the life of the frame. This required the removal of some of the newly gilded surface,using pumice powders. Sharp tools were used to cut through the gold and bole clay layers into the new gesso in a limited number of places on the bottom edge to simulate scratches acquired naturally by the frame being handled and moved throughout its life. These were coloured with watercolours to simulate ingrained dirt.

close up view of the corner

The frame after conservation, corner detail.

Finally, the whole frame was coated with a thin layer of rabbit skin size before watercolours were used to tone the new gold to match the surrounding original material. At this stage, any small losses were also toned to help unify the overall appearance. Rotten stone was then applied whilst the frame was in an upright position to simulate an aged look on surfaces that naturally collect dust and dirt.