Conservation and restoration of the wall paintings by Vlaho Bukovac at Bukovac House, Cavtat, (Croatia) by Helena Puhara + Lucija Vuković + Ana Požar Piplica

Conservation and restauration work on wall paintings by Vlaho Bukovac, "blue room", retouch, Vlaho Bukovac House Museum, Cavtat. © Ana Požar Piplica

This article focuses on the conservation and restoration work on wall paintings by Vlaho Bukovac (1855.-1922.), the founder of modern Croatian painting, which has been carried out in his birth house (today a museum) in Cavtat, Croatia. Funds were made available by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia following a tender in 2016.
Vlaho Bukovac painted the eastern part of the house as a very young painter, probably after he returned from New York around 1871 and definitely before he went to Paris in 1877 to start his education at École des Beaux-Arts. Research, protection and presentation of the wall paintings in Bukovac House have continued since 2003. The work supervisor is Ana Požar Piplica, conservator-restorer.

Wall paintings were painted using a combination of 19th century wall painting techniques: a fresco, a secco, and emulsion tempera coat. They take up large spaces on the walls in almost every room in the house. The current damages and their endangered condition are above all consequences of salt accumulated in the structure of the walls. The seasonal cycle of salt crystallisation during the evaporation of dump destroys the painted wall surfaces.
Salting-out (also known as precipitation- crystallization) was perfomed by applying a layer of cellulose pulp on the paintings surface and by using sacrificial render composed of lime and quarz sand in 1 to 5 ratio. The render was applied in the areas where the painted coat had disappeared. The process of capillary flow of water to the surface draws the salt out of deeper, inner wall layers. During dry seasons the salt crystallizes on the cellulose pulp and the render and is being timely removed together with the cellulose pulp and sacrificial render.

We also removed industrial putty which had been used in earlier restorations. Lacunas were filled with restoration plaster having a traditional lime basis. Retouching has been restricted mostly to presenting the original layer whereas reconstructions have been avoided.
A number of lacunas which considerably detract from the perception and visual experience have been retouched, while smaller damages and scratches have not been touched. Large surfaces where the wall paintings were lost have only been plastered.

About the authors:
Lucija Vuković, studied Art history and Italian language and literature at the University of Zagreb. Currently works as a curator at the Vlaho Bukovac House Museum / Museums and Galleries of Konavle in Cavtat, Croatia.
Helena Puhara, studied Art history and Archaeology at the University of Zagreb. Currently works as a curator at the Vlaho Bukovac House Museum / Museums and Galleries of Konavle in Cavtat, Croatia.
Ana Požar Piplica, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. Actively working on the restoration of monuments.