Review by Tamara Ukrainčik and Barbara Horvat Kavazović
The workshop Lining of Paintings—held at the Department for Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb from 12 to 14 April 2021—was organized with the goal to deepen the understanding and skills involved in this—at many times—contro-versial but now rare conservation treatment. The workshop was devised, organized and led by Full Professor Tamara Ukrainčik, MA, and Assistant Professor Barbara Horvat Kavazović, MA.
The history of the conservation-restoration of canvas paintings abounds with innovative solutions, lining being an especially interesting treatment with many different approaches. Over time concepts surrounding lining have changed (even changing several times within a short period) and have led to preventive conservation now being the norm. A broader education of conservators, and a more scientific approach in understanding the consequences of such treatments, led to a sharp turn and critique of traditional methods. This is the key reason why lining is now generally performed as a last resort when treating paintings. Even in the educational process, a stand on minimal intervention is taken, and alternative methods are given preference. This often results in students not seeing first-hand how a lining process is carried out, nor do they acquire any experience in how this was done in the past. A deep understanding of past procedures is crucial in taking the right stance when dealing with a previously lined painting.
Later than in the rest of Europe, Croatia’s shift away from lining happened in the 1990's when we also saw a broader use of synthetic materials. By the early 2000's the mere mention of traditional methods in lining was very much frowned upon. Old traditional mixtures were rarely employed, and in cases of reversing treatments, attention was increasingly focused on the complete removal of past linings. Still, some conservators who assisted in the formative years of our Department continued applying these methods into the early 2000’s; this generation of conservators is mostly gone. In recent years lining has become rare at the Department, following the trend we see in our profession. Now the only remnants of our predecessors’ practices linger in the form of exercises on blank canvases where they are confined to illustrating these traditional materials and approaches.
In the wake of the Conserving Canvas symposium, held at Yale University in 2019, two teachers in distant Zagreb set out to organize a workshop centred on lining paintings. The aim of the workshop was to enable emerging conservators to delve into the subject of lining.
Unfortunately COVID-19 happened, and the workshop was postponed, to be held under much different circumstances a year later and with fewer participants. Lectures were open to the public via video conferencing services and had gathered a small number of colleagues from the Croatian Conservation Institute, the Croatian Conservation Society, private practice and alumni of the Department. The practical segment of the workshop was organized only for students, in accordance with prescribed pandemic measures.
The lectures covered the history of lining in Europe, the development of different traditional and contemporary methods and techniques and their historic advocates. An overview of traditional materials was given, including information on their synthetic counterparts, their properties, more current practices and their benefits. The lectures presented case studies of paintings treated at the Department using different approaches and the rationale around those decisions. The paintings chosen were treated as part of conservation of easel painting courses or graduate theses, spanning a period of over two decades. Some examples included a variation of the Florentine method using glue-starch paste and cold lining in a vacuum envelope; consolidation with glue paste and wax-resin paste for lining using an iron; removing previous lining pastes and re-lining with acrylic aqueous dispersion adhesives; lining a double-sided painting (i.e. a fragmented processional banner) displayed as a painting using PVAL and crepeline silk.
The practical segment of the workshop was held over three days. Mock-ups made in different media and on different supports were utilised for the demonstration of lining methods.
Lining is usually a process of several stages which include the stretching of secondary canvases, the preparation of adhesive mixtures and the application of lining adhesives on canvases. During the workshop several methods allowed for preparation and lining on the same day, but most had to carry over to the next day. The lining itself was the focus on the third day, using different equipment—a low pressure table, a heated suction table, a more traditional lining iron—demonstrating different methods including cold lining, heat-activated lining, adhesive reactivation with low pressure lining and Vishwa Mehra’s nap-bond method.
Several mock-ups were intentionally lined badly, e.g. a secondary canvas was chosen for its particularly pronounced grain in order to demonstrate the impression it makes on the surface of a painting with a finely woven support. Also, paintings executed with a more matt finish and delaminated layers were deliberately chosen to be lined with a traditional wax-resin to showcase its negative side effects.
Adhesives chosen for the workshop spanned from glue-starch paste and wax-resin paste to synthetic wax adhesives, BEVA®371 and acrylic dispersions such as Plextol®B500 and Dispersion K 360, prepared with appropriate additives and solvents.
Before the end of the workshop, students were encouraged to try what one rarely has a chance to do—to separate the freshly lined canvases, examine the appearance of the supports, and come to a conclusion about different properties of each lining material and method. A discussion followed, with the instructors giving more examples and reviewing several situations where a certain stance and decision to line a painting may be applicable.
In conclusion, the importance of understanding the steps and execution of a procedure, especially one becoming as rare as lining, is of great importance to young conservators who, in their future treatments, might encounter different examples of it. Hopefully this workshop will give them the insight to revalue their predecessors’ decisions and perhaps equip them with the necessary knowledge and initial skills to tackle the treatment of such an object.
Tamara Ukrainčik is a full professor at the Department for Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, specialized in easel paintings. Since 1988 she has collaborated with many Croatian cultural institutions on different conservation projects.
Barbara Horvat Kavazović graduated from the Department for Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 2010 where she now works as an assistant professor, specializing in easel paintings.
(Read the article in the June-July 2021 "News in Conservation" Issue 84, p. 44-47)