Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dodge Family Relic Restored

Original state of Artwork 
We always love receiving a work of art that has ties to our local history in metro Detroit. This particular painting is of Anna Thompson Dodge, wife of Horace E. Dodge, one of the founding members of the Dodge Brothers Company established in the early 1900's. Anna Dodge was one of the wealthiest people in the country at the time of her death in 1970, at 103 years old. She famously built and lived in Rose Terrace - a well known Grosse Pointe Farms mansion, demolished in 1971. The artist is Percy Ives (1864- 1928) - a well established portrait painter who painted other subjects such as President Grover Cleveland and poet Walt Whitman. Although he was originally from New York, he settled in Detroit and became immersed in the local arts community.

When we received this century-old work, there was a puncture present through the subject's elbow, as well as extensive craquelure (fine cracks present in varnish or paint) throughout the entire work.

Close up of puncture
Craquelure can be caused by many different factors - specifically age and environment. This particular painting exhibited a few different kinds of craquelure to be addressed. The first, and most obvious - the circular patterned cracks around the hole indicated that there was some sort of force causing the puncture. This kind of pattern is generally only seen when there has been some type of physical trauma to a painted surface. The second shows its age in the kind of cracks present - both due to its particular aging process, including environmental factors and the nature of aging oil paint. The expanding and contracting of the painting support as well as canvas, along with all the additional gesso and painted layers, over time will cause a series of cracks to appear in the painted surface. This is something that can be stabilized to prevent continued deterioration, but not reversed. 

Repaired elbow

Stabilization was achieved by removing the painting from the original supports and lining the canvas with a new backing and a reversible conservation adhesive. This allows for the possible deterioration of the painted surface to be stopped, as it is no longer just on a brittle canvas which has had so much wear and tear due to its age and environmental changes. This allowed us to safely fill and inpaint the traumatized area. It was important to us to restore the original supports, as they are as historic as the painting itself. The newly stabilized painting was then varnished and stretched back onto the supports and put back in its original frame.

It was great to see this painting, which has such historical significance to our city, restored and stabilized to be enjoyed by it's owner for years to come.

The finished portrait