• 1980's After cleaning

    After cleaning thick layers of dirt and yellow varnish were removed. Some areas of old discoloured retouching are still visible.

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  • 2002 Before conservation

    This photograph shows smeared white glue residue over the painting surface and the remains of the old discoloured retouching paint.

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  • 2006 After filling

    All the paint losses have been filled, providing an unbroken surface for later retouching.

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  • 2007 After varnishing

    The Sirens and Ulysses after the first layer of varnish. The colours appear deeper and more brilliant.

  • 1980's
  • 2002
  • 2006
  • 2007

The painting is placed face down on a smooth flat surface. The old degraded lining canvas is gently peeled away from the original canvas in thin strips.

The powdery composition glue is scraped from the original canvas with a scalpel. The glue is removed in a pattern of alternating squares to allow the canvas to relax evenly. Any hard remaining glue is softened with a poultice. Removing the glue reveals tears and holes in the canvas. These are repaired using PVA glue and by inserting new pieces of canvas into larger holes.

In order to stabilise the paintwork, the painting must be turned over. An envelope of plastic is placed on a wooden frame around the painting. Air is sucked from the envelope creating a taut ‘drum skin’ with the painting inside.

With the vacuum pressure on, the painting becomes stiff and can be turned over without damage. The sirens are revealed for the first time in two years.

The protective facing tissue is moistened and gently peeled away fro the paint layer.

Some paintwork has come loose and must be glued down. Isinglass adhesive is fed beneath the paint flakes using a small brush. The glue is set using a heated tool.

The original paint is still partly hidden by old restoration and discoloured retouching paint. This is softened with solvents and removed with a scalpel.

A linen lining canvas is prepared to give structural strength to the weakened original canvas. An additional cotton canvas is used as an interleaf.

Each canvas is stretched and smoothed, then coated with BEVA adhesive. Both canvases are heated under vacuum pressure to seal them together. The painting and the lining canvases are heated on a hot table under vacuum pressure. The lined painting is allowed to cool before the pressure is released. Then it is re-faced using tissue and a wax-resin adhesive. It is then rolled carefully onto a cardboard tube.

Surface damage on the frame
The frame is taken apart, revealing many areas of loss, damage and weakness to its structure. Large areas of original gilding and decorative mouldings are missing or have been lost completely.


Mouldings taken from undamaged originals
Casts of the existing mouldings are taken and used to rebuild missing areas. The new mouldings, like the originals, are cast from Gilders Composition and coated with layers of gesso.

Preparing the mouldings
Before the gold leaf is applied, the gesso must be coated with bole. Bole is a pigmented natural clay that enriches the tone of the gilding when applied beneath it.

Applying the gold leaf
The technique of water gilding is used to apply gold leaf to the prepared areas of the frame. At this stage the areas of new gilding are very bright. This is the restoration journey of the frame so far.

Transit and display

In the exhibition gallery the painting is unrolled, secured around the stretcher and hung on the wall. At this point, the public phase of the project began.

A filling putty made from chalk and glue is applied with a spatula. When dry, it is smoothed flush to the paint layer using moistened swabs and a scalpel. Texture is created to mimic the surrounding paint texture.

The painting is given a brush coat of varnish to seal the filling putty and saturate the paint layer. This helps with matching the colours accurately and separates the retouching from the original paint.

Specialist retouching paints (Gamblin retouching colours) are dissolved in solvent and mixed to match the colour of the missing paint.

If the restorer can’t work out how the missing paintwork originally looked, they apply a single colour matched to the lightest tone of the surrounding paint. The rest is left to the viewers imagination.

Spraying the painting with varnish in the spray tent
After the retouching was completed, a we applied a final coat of varnish. This varnish gives the surface an even sheen and seals in the re-touching.

Varnish was applied with a spray gun to give a flawless finish. Wax was added to the varnish to reduce the its glossiness. Because excess spray is created during the varnishing process, protective clothing and face masks were worn. A large tent of fire retardant polythene was fixed around the painting to contain the excess spray. In total, three coats of varnish were applied.


Getting the frame in place in the gallery
The restored frame was transported to the gallery in lengths and reconstructed in Gallery 9. Foam fittings were placed inside the rebate of the frame to cushion the painting. The Sirens and Ulysses was lifted into the back of the frame and fixings were added to secure the painting. It took six people to hang the painting on the wall.

The conservation team are all really proud of the restoration, so please take a look and leave us a message or question in the feedback area.

  • How the painting has changed
  • Structural treatment
  • Conservation and restoration of the frame
  • Transit and display
  • Restoration in the gallery