TITLE: The Melton Hunt: In the Widmerpool Country
Oil on canvas (lined)
63 x 155 cm
Conservator: Bronwyn Leone
Framed in a gilded wooden frame with corner embellishments and inscription
Signed bottom centre left finely in black '1825'
The painting was first examined along with its pendant 'The Melton Hunt: The Brook under Tilton on the Hill' which was undergoing treatment in February 2015. Microscopic examination revealed interesting features of the artistís technique, as well as details regarding the condition of the painting. The painting was re-examined before and during treatment in March 2016, where several interesting pentimenti were discovered, including a hatless rider who previously had a hat, now only visible through infrared examination.
The canvas is stretched to a five member wooden stretcher with one vertical cross member. The stretcher has several scuffs and scratches. The keys of the central cross bar are missing but the tension of the canvas is not compromised. There is a fair amount of dust and debris at the reverse and behind the stretcher bars. 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 somewhat degraded and rusty, with some degradation of the canvas around some of the tack holes. The reverse and edges of the canvas have a thickish layer of grey dirt. A vertical weave interference is clearly visible in a raking light.
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, as well as along the top edge.
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. There is a slight impasto to the detail of the paint. There are some areas of drying craquelure such as along the horizon, in some of the foliage, and in the dark glaze-rich paint of the foreground.
Microscopic examination reveals details of the artistís technique. As in the pendant painting, the artist has built up the individual elements of the composition, such as the horses and figures, and the background simultaneously. Each can be seen to overlap the other in various places, and there are many small pentimenti such as in the positioning of the riders, a crop, reigns, as well as in the positioning of the branches of the trees. A substantial change can be seen in rider second on the left of the horizon, where a slightly larger and differently positioned horse and rider can be seen through the background paint below the current rider. A picket fence left of the central hedge has also been painted out in a reworking of the image by the artist. The pack of hounds at the right has been adjusted to remove two dogs whose tails are now faintly visible through the ageing paint. Infrared examination reveals that the hatless rider (left foreground) was originally planned with a hat, which was the painted out by the artist.
Other examples of the artistís technique visible are the feathering of the brushstrokes to produce fine detailed effects in for example a horseís eye. It can also be seen that a certain paint used for detailing of the reigns and crops has resisted on the surface, suggesting this was applied after drying of the underlayer. Traditional techniques of build-up of layers in for example the red drapery with the use of vermilion underlayers and a red lake glaze is also clearly evident. Examination under ultraviolet light after cleaning shows the high percentage of resin present in some of the paint in the foreground foliage, which fluoresces brightly.
There is some abrasion to the paint from earlier cleaning. There is scuffing along the edges from framing. There has been some moating of the impasto as a result of the lining. There is a small recent damage to the varnish and paint layers in the centre sky.
There is a fairly 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 due to uneven removal in the past. Under ultraviolet light the varnish fluoresces greenish and the unevenesses are visible as large swipes due to application or thinning of the resin.
There is a light layer of yellow-brown surface dirt.
- The painting was examined along with its pendant 'The Melton Hunt: The Brook under Tilton on the Hill' and documented using digital photography; normal, raking and ultraviolet light; and the stereo binocular microscope.
- The painting was taken out of its frame for the examination and the frame rebate lined with felt tape before the painting was reframed.
- 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 painting was surface cleaned with saliva which removed a substantial 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. The varnish layer in the lower half of the painting was much thicker due to uneven removal of the varnish in the past, and thus further cleaning was carried out in this area using acetone in a very dry application rolled with a swab over the surface.
- Varnish removal also effectively removed the retouchings in the few minor damages, and the overpaint in the figures (mainly in the horses, red coats and black top hats).
- An isolating varnish of dammar semi (3 parts stock: 1 part matt) was applied by brushing.
- No filling was necessary as the few minor losses do not extend to the ground layer.
- The areas of loss were retouched using dry pigments bound in dammar. Additional retouching was carried out to areas of abrasion. Pentiments were left visible as they are not visually disturbing and are of high interest value.
- The surface gloss was deemed satisfactory and no additional varnish layers were applied.
- The painting was reframed.