One thing you learn quickly in conservation is that the objects under your care make the rules! Frequently, well-thought-through plans or strategies for approaches to treatment have to be tweaked or completely rethought.
When I first encountered Le Brun's grand portrait in a warehouse in London back in 2013, I was convinced that relining would be required. Pronounced distortions had been caused where the top eighteen inches of the composition had been folded over a smaller stretcher for more than a hundred years (see "The Jabach Portrait Conservation Continued: Next Steps"). As I became familiar with the painting here in New York, however, I decided that a more localized approach to the problem would be appropriate. My idea was to use a large, three-foot-diameter tube to roll up the top section of the painting and work on the distortions directly from the front.
In my last post, I explained the process of lifting the stretcher off the painting and removing the wax strip-lining and accumulations of wax from the reverse. These steps gave me a much better sense of the physical properties of the painting; in short, I realized that my initial plan just wasn't going to work. The painting, complete with its two linings, felt like linoleum and clearly would require a more complex procedure using moisture, heat, stretching, and pressure to relax the structure and bring it back in plane.
As in my last post, I'm including footage to help explain the sequence. These clips shorten a time-consuming and repetitive process—carried out over several weeks—to a digestible couple of minutes. (Note: Moisture, heat, and pressure can induce tremendous, beneficial results or, frankly, inflict serious damage. Once again, the difference lies in the knowledge and experience of the practitioner, so the old adage "Don't try this at home" is particularly relevant here.)
The process has been successful, and I am very pleased with the result—the surface is once again in plane. The next steps will be to apply a new strip-lining, turn the painting over, carry out additional consolidation as necessary, and then restretch it.