The Icon Test

The Icon Test

A recent restoration of a badly broken late 19th century Russian Icon on a thick fruitwood panel.

Despite being a relatively young 130 or so years old, this painting was wrestling with its own future, given the severity of the break across the panel, which had been previously ‘repaired’ some 40 years ago. Fair enough to the previous restorer, it was never going to be an easy job,…but if ‘restoration’ has any value for the painting,..it is to,..not to be seen,..

A glance across the fine glassine surface shows how badly the two parts of the panel were joined.

And then filled with thick brushed on paint to match,..

Inevitably it was necessary to clean and remove all traces of this before I could attempt any kind of restoration process.

These test clean area’s show something of the original colours used by the artist.

They are underneath successive layers of grease, wax, shellac, varnish and more grease and animal glue.

Cleaning did take a while to say the least.

During the cleaning process,.it became also apparent that the previous method of ‘fixing’ the break, was to pour liquid animal glue into the crevasse to mend the join and hope to retain the original shards of paint.

An interesting concept, but one destined to fail as you can see,..all the loose shards of paint and chalk ground have floated about during the drying process, virtually destroying any chance of retrieving anything original from the join area as the glue dries hard and the paint and chalk ground are brittle. Trying to remove even single a shard was hours and hours of arguably pointless activity as the shards simply crumble before you can detach them.

Here is the painting, fully cleaned.And so it became apparent that I would have to re-break the panel, loose the shards, re-set the panel, re-fill the gap, and then restore it to match.

A week later, and here is the newly joined panel with the first steps of surface filling.

Now comes the raw skill factor,..can I match everything that is missing along the break area,..?

In restoration terms, although the damage here is but a tiny % of the whole, it is critical to get it right as it has to be perfect in every direction, from every glance or it will show,..and there is a lot of fine detail, gold paint, glazes and information all to be pieced together, and in the right order, before the two half’s of the image can feel ‘as one’ again,..

Every piece of missing information along the join has to be rebuilt from the artists original methodology upwards , thus incurring several layers of activity for each increment of missing paint.

And here is the result, after restoration.

In these details you will have to work hard to see a trace of the original damage


You may notice that I have also joined up the original cracks in the paint to maintain the sense of age, of the work.

Approximately 90 hours, over nearly 5 weeks.

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