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Restoration of Holt Portrait


A student brought this "primitif" portrait to class, hoping that I could help restore it. I am not a professional restorer, nor do I want to be. However, this portrait intrigued me. The basic portrait was nicely done, if somewhat primitive in style, but the canvas was very dirty and the paint film sunken. In addition, someone had tried to brighten the portrait by adding very blue color to the eyes and very red lips and a very promoinent white nose. In the example I have of the original here, I had already gotten rid of some of this additional paint, which came off fairly easily by gently rubbing with turpentine. You can see a faint oval shape around the head. The painting was framed in a square frame but with an oval wooden mat inset. The areas outside the oval are therefore closer to the original colors. It appears that the painting was originally done on a flat surface on canvas and later stretched. I am not sure tht it was primed or properly primed. It doesn't appear to have been varnished, which could account for the amount of dirt that has permeated the very paint film.

Sorry, this is not a very good photo.

The student was able to supply me with a photo of her mother, taken at approximately the same period of her life. You can see that the shape of the face differs from the shape in the portrait above. However, I am going to try not to change the basic portrait, simply restore to it some of it's original life while maintaining the "feel" of the original. Therefore, while I'll keep the photo for reference, I'll want to refer to the photo I have taken of the original damaged portrait.

I have begun by using Winsor & Newton Artists' Picture Cleaner to get off some of the grime. This lightened the painting somewhat, but you can see from the upper arms (which were under the oval mat) that the original skin tones were much lighter and gentler. After removing the excess Picture Cleaner with turpentine, I applied a layer of Winsor & Newton Liquin to the entire surface. This brought up the color. Liquin is an alkyd medium that speeds drying time and can be used for glazing and fine detail. In this case, I wanted a coating for the very drab basic paint coat. Now I can use the less damaged areas (the arms at the bottom of the portrait) to mix colors that will approximate the original skin tones.


This shows the process of mixing basic colors that will be used, in the face area by using the arm area (right hand side near signature) for color matching.

I was then able to work on the face, which needed extensive repair. Detail of the eye and whole face are shown here. At this stage, I wasn't blending the color, just getting the approximate correct color.

At this stage, I had just worked on the skin areas and a little on the background around the neck. I don't plan to leavethe "oval" at the back, since the painting (I presume) was originally painted without it and it appeared as a result of aging.

Shown to the left is the near final restoration. The one thing that didn't ring true to the client was something that was an error in the photo translation. The original subject had no red in her hair. I modified the red tones to light brown and we were done.




Last updated: October 7, 2007
Copyright c. 2007 by Pam Coulter Blehert. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.