TITLE: The Melton Hunt: The Brook under Tilton on the Hill
Oil on canvas (lined)
62,5 x 152,5 cmm
Conservator: Bronwyn Leone
Framed in a gilded wooden frame with corner embellishments and inscription.
Signed bottom centre left finely in black â€˜J. Ferneley 1825â€™
The painting was treated for consolidation of an area of raised paint. Examination and cleaning revealed interesting details about the artistâ€™s technique as well as many pentimenti and some underdrawing. Although there are areas of damage through quite severe abrasion, the skill of the artist remains apparent. Old very painterly oil retouchings in the areas of damage were not removed but instead reintegrated during the retouching stage. This included the painting out of two riders and a pack of hounds in the distance far left as their condition was not clear, nor the reason for their overpainting.
The canvas is stretched to a five member wooden stretcher with one vertical cross member. The stretcher has several scuffs and scratches. There are six keys missing and one broken key. Labels on the stretcher are photographically documented.
The painting has been glue paste lined with the original tacking margins removed. The original canvas is a tight, medium-fine weave.
The lining canvas is a fine weave linen canvas, attached to the stretcher with tacks that have become degraded and rusty, and there is degradation of the canvas around some of the tack holes. The reverse and edges of the canvas have a thickish layer of grey dirt. The painting remains stiff due to the lining, but tensioning is needed as a result of the missing keys. A vertical weave interference is clearly visible in a raking light. There is an area of water damage bottom left (circa 27 x 20 cm) which corresponds to flaking at the front of the painting, and there is staining at the reverse due to the damage and possibly also due to a previous treatment. There does not appear to be delamination between the canvases.
There is an even biscuit-coloured ground layer. This is visible through the paint layers due to the painting technique both at spaces between the brushstrokes and through areas of thinner paint. It is also visible through areas of abrasion.
The paint layers have been finely and deftly applied with visible brushstrokes and with a wet-into-wet technique in the details of the horses, figures and dogs. These brushstrokes as well as those of the foliage and some of the clouds are slightly impasted. The paint contains various areas of drying craquelure, such as along the horizon, in the trees, in some of the brown horses and the dark, glaze-rich paint of the foreground. The signature also displays original drying craquelure.
Microscopic examination reveals that the artist has built up the individual elements of the composition, such as horses and figures, and the background simultaneously. Each can be seen to overlap the other in various places, and there are many small pentimenti, particularly in the positioning of the horsesâ€™ legs and feet, as well as in finer details such as a riderâ€™s crop. This apparent freeness in the paint layers does not however indicate a lack of planning, as there is also a significant amount of underdrawing present, visible both in some of the horses and figures as well as the foliage of the trees. This underdrawing appears under the microscope to have been applied in a dry medium (possibly charcoal), while a second type of underdrawing, particularly evident in the figures of the horses, appears to have been applied in a wet medium (â€˜paintedâ€™).
The paint has been significantly abraded by earlier cleaning; this is most evident along the horizon line and in the foliage of the trees and the central area of sky behind the trees. The central left brown horse is also fairly abraded and the head and neck have been retouched as a result. There are further retouchings to some of the figures for example the hats have been overpainted. There are several retouchings along the bottom edge at damages from the frame and other scuffs and scratches. An earlier campaign of old oil retouchings is apparent in some areas, such as at the hill far right, and covering two further riders on horseback as well as a further pack of hounds in the distance just below the horizon at the left.
The area of water damage bottom left contains raised craquelure and some resulting losses, most of which are older and have been retouched (without filling) in a previous restoration. There are indents along the left edge from the original/earlier framing. There has been some moating of the impasto as a result of the lining.
There is a slightly discoloured layer of natural resin varnish which is uneven resulting in some areas being more obscured by the yellow discolouration than others. This is also thicker in the foreground than in the sky does to uneven removal in the past. Under ultraviolet light the varnish fluoresces greenish and the unevennesses are visible as large swipes due to application or thinning of the resin and drips.
There is a light layer of yellow-brown surface dirt.
- The painting was examined and documented using digital photography; normal, raking and ultraviolet light; and the stereo binocular microscope.
- The painting was taken out of its frame.
- The reverse of the painting was dusted and any debris behind the stretcher bars was removed using a spatula.
- The reverse of the canvas was cleaned using a bristle brush and a vacuum cleaner.
- The missing and broken keys were replaced with new wooden keys stained to match.
- The painting was gently keyed out to improve and tension of the canvas and the picture plane.
- The area of lifting and raised craquelure was consolidated using Isinglass circa 8% applied through acid free tissue and the area massaged with a low heat circa 40 C until the raised paint was relaxed and could be glued back down.
- The painting was surface cleaned with saliva which removed a layer of yellow-brown surface dirt.
- The varnish removal was carried out using a 3:1 mixture of ethyl alcohol and mineral turpentine. This allowed for an even swelling of the varnish layer which was then removed with the swab and a tissue.
- An isolating varnish of dammar semi (3 parts stock: 1 part matt) was applied by brushing.
- Areas of loss were filled with a chalk and gelatine putty plasticised with a drop of PVA, and textured with a liquid version of the same putty to match the surrounding area.
- The areas of loss were retouched using dry pigments bound in dammar. Additional retouching was carried out to areas of abrasion. It was unclear as to why the two riders and the hounds below the horizon left had been overpainted. Since the decision was made not to remove the overrpaint however, it was decided to retouch these areas to a level which still allowed the the existence of the riders to remain evident.
- A final varnish layer was applied by spraying to even out the surface and adjust surface gloss.
- The frame rebate was lined with felt tape and the painting reframed.