Impressions from participation in two Getty Foundation Conserving Canvas workshops

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Spatula application of wax-resin mixture on linen canvas for the Dutch lining method variant reconstruction, Croatian Conservation Institute, Split Department for Conservation. Photo credit: Pino Gamulin (Croatian Conservation Institute), 2021.

"The Dutch Method Unfolded and Fusion 1: mare nostrum with brief notice on the research of the Dutch lining method history in Croatia"

By Jelena Zagora

In the summer of 2018, the Getty Foundation launched Conserving Canvas, an international grant initiative focused on issues of preserving paintings on textile supports.

The centuries-old practice of lining canvas paintings declined significantly during the 1980's when less invasive techniques and the principle of minimal intervention were adopted, but many conservators of younger generations lack the necessary knowledge and experience to treat lined paintings. Collection curators often don't have a proper understanding of methodological and material complexity affecting the decision making and course of such treatments.

Under the auspices of the Foundation, the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at the Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) hosted the international Conserving Canvas symposium in October 2019. After the landmark year of 1974 and the Greenwich conference, this is the second major international gathering dealing with structural interventions on canvas paintings, encompassing a review of the past 45 years of practice and insight into the current state of the profession. The online publication of the proceedings was postponed due to the pandemic and is expected soon. Besides the symposium, the Getty Foundation has so far supported almost 30 open and closed international workshops with training programs for new generations of conservators and curators working with canvas paintings. The call for proposals is still active.

The Amsterdam Wax-Resin Project – Resource and Research Center for the Conservation of Wax-Resin Lined Paintings of the University of Amsterdam (UVA) is the latest research contribution to the global legacy of the Dutch wax-resin lining method, invented in Amsterdam during the first half of the 19th century. The Dutch Method Unfolded (UVA / Getty Foundation, June 7-17, 2022, Netherlands) was the first in a series of planned masterclasses within the project, organized by Emilie Froment (project leader) and Melissa Daugherty. The program covered a wide range of subjects such as the history of the method, ageing processes of wax-resin mixtures, impact on the original painting materials, and conservation issues.

Participants investigated and presented history, influence, and consequences of the Dutch method in their countries and institutions, showcasing sample collections and discussing wax-resin mixture analysis, conservation concepts, and experiments with innovative techniques. Among many applications, the first masterclass participants were selected from the USA (Maryland, New York, Delaware, Texas), Canada, England, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Russia, India, Mexico, Brazil, and South Korea.

As a representative of Croatia, I presented research on the introduction and development of the method in my country (in the cities of Zagreb and Split) and the reconstruction of the Dutch method variant practiced in Split during the second half of the 20th century with characteristic examples from the program of the Croatian Conservation Institute (Conservation Department in Split).

It was a privilege to see the oldest preserved examples of wax-resin lined paintings treated by Nicolaas and Willem Antonij Hopmann and hear the experiences of several generations of experts in the country where the Dutch method originated. In museums, conservation studios, and depots in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Haarlem, both lecturers and participants shed light on the hitherto researched history tracing the dissemination of the method all around the world, the impact on canvas painting heritage, and earlier restoration practices of different cultures, historical periods, and painting schools, as well as different approaches to preservation and conservation of the Dutch method legacy. Making wax-resin mixtures; experimenting with reconstructions of the method; observing structural, physical, chemical, and color changes; and noting the reactivity of wax-resin lined samples to mechanical stress provided invaluable insights.

Beautifully designed to enable a high level of interaction and information flowing back-and-forth between lecturers and participants (first through a specially developed online platform during the pandemic which put the original event on hold for two years), it was an intense and enriching learning experience packed with visual impressions, inspiring conversations, and eye-opening exchange of know-ledge. Every participant came away with much to reflect on and to apply within individual and institutional conservation concepts and everyday practice. Maintaining contacts and cultivating new collaborations that stemmed from the masterclass, I keep track of the updates and planned follow-up, looking forward to getting in touch with the next lineup, shedding more light on this once widespread historical conservation technique.

My research for the Dutch workshop grew into a wider study. A brief overview of the research is available on the website of the IIC Croatian Group, where a statistical analysis of the results of an online survey created for Croatian painting conservators in cooperation with the association will also be published.

Through IIC Croatian Group platform, the survey was sent to email addresses of 237 paintings conservators and 73 museums and galleries holding paintings on textile supports in their collections. In cooperation with the Arts Academy in Split, one of the methods for wax-resin lining practiced in Split was reconstructed at the Croatian Restoration Institute. Variants of the Dutch method were practiced in Croatia from 1916 until the early 1990s; an article on the history of the method in Croatia is due to be published by the end of 2023 in the Croatian Conservation Institute's periodical Portal, including the results of the first chemical analyses of Croatian wax-resin mixtures provided by The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) as part of the Dutch Method Unfolded masterclass.

To continue my study of wax-resin linings, I applied to participate in a digital workshop, Fusion 1: mare nostrum – Digital Teaching Workshop – Minimal Invasive Methods for the Conservation of Textile Supports of Paintings (CICS – Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, Cologne / Getty Foundation, March-July 2022), led by Petra Demuth and Hannah Flock with Andrea Pataki Hundt. My study painting for the workshop, Virgin with Saints by Francesco di Maria from Naples (Dubrovnik Dominican monastery, around 1680), was treated at the Croatian Conservation Institute's studio in Split after being damaged during the 1990s war (the painting sustained mine shard holes). It was the only Dutch method-lined painting in the workshop that would be treated with the intention to preserve both the original and lining canvases; this was a great opportunity to test the limits of inventive, highly sophisticated, and thoroughly elaborated methods developed by CICS. The damage in both canvases was successfully reconstructed by thread bonding, reweaving old and new threads, and making canvas inserts using combined techniques; an online report, in English, with examples of all participants is being prepared by the organizers. Besides my Croatian example, all presented case studies from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, and Slovenia provided valuable insights during regular practical and online meetings. Every appointed update session was a condensed learning experience and an opportunity for sharing knowledge and ideas between instructors and participating conservators. To emphasize the success of this hybrid (digital and hands-on) workshop, the tear mends and loss reconstructions hold very well and my notebook and computer are filled with useful information related to treating textile painting supports and other conservation issues to be used for years to come. My colleagues have already benefited from my engagement in this workshop and from the generous donation envisioned by CICS and from the Getty Foundation.


Jelena Zagora is a paintings conservator at the Croatian Conservation Institute (Split Department for Conservation), associate assistant lecturer at the Arts Academy of the University of Split, and secretary of the IIC Croatian Group.

(Read the review and see all the images in the June-July 2023 "News in Conservation" Issue 96, p. 64-69)

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The centuries-old practice of lining canvas paintings declined significantly during the 1980's when less invasive techniques and the principle of minimal intervention were adopted, but many conservators of younger generations lack the necessary knowledge and experience to treat lined paintings.
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