“I had unfortunately added too much gluten size in with the paints, which caused large areas of the composition to fall off”
The Sirens and Ulysses started to deteriorate the minute it was painted. Etty was well known for mixing different materials into his oil paints. Analysis of the paintwork in The Sirens and Ulysses showed that he mixed it with egg yolk and animal glues.
When the paint dried it became too brittle and sections of it fell off. Etty himself had to repaint large sections and eventually the picture went into storage after just a short time on display.
There have been many attempts to return the painting to good condition. Previous conservators cleaned the varnish, retouched the paintwork and added a glue lining to the canvas.
Many of these treatments also deteriorated over time. Some, such as covering up original paintwork, would now be seen as inappropriate. Excessive surface cleaning, probably using harsh solvent cleaners, had also destroyed some of the delicate surface glazes.
Yet the conservators of the past were acting in good faith, with as much knowledge as they had. Today, thanks to modern techniques and conservation grade materials, we can prevent any further damage from taking place.