Conserving Old Master Drawings: A Balancing Act

Conserving Old Master Drawings: A Balancing Act


– [Voiceover] A fundamental
role of a museum is to care for its collection and preserve it for future generations. European drawings from the
1300s to the late 1800s, or Old Master drawings, are particularly vulnerable. They’re on paper and
hundreds of years old. Conserving an Old Master
drawing is a balancing act. All drawings have their
own set of condition issues that need to be assessed individually. Here, a Getty conservator
carefully examines a 500-year-old German drawing. She first removes the drawing
from its mount, or support. She inspects the drawing, lit from below. This makes it easier to see the marks left by the wires of the paper mold, stains, a watermark, a tear, with a darkened area that shows where it had been previously repaired. And at the corner, the shadow of a piece of paper that had been used to attach the drawing to a mount. Next she examines the drawing
under ultraviolet light. The brown spots are called foxing. These are marks left by mold. Finally, she studies the
drawing under a microscope. Now the conservator tests
the solubility of the ink to ensure it won’t bleed during treatment. She places the drawing on a vacuum table, a device that extracts the liquids used in the treatment out of the paper. She uses a small brush to apply an ammoniated water solution to reduce the brown foxing. This solution subtly releases
the color of the foxing, which distracts from the
appearance of the drawing. She carefully alternates the application of ammoniated water with that of ethanol in order to reduce tide lines, irregular lines or blemishes left behind as the ammoniated water solution dries. Wearing magnifying lenses, she examines tears and prepares them for mending and reinforcement. She takes a piece of Japanese tissue and carefully applies wheat
starch paste to mend the tear. Japanese paper has very strong fibers, is chemically neutral, and can easily be identified and removed. She allows the paste to set by putting the drawing between blotters and weighing it down with
glass blocks and weights. To complete the conservation treatment, the entire drawing is humidified and then placed under
weights with blotters to remove the moisture and flatten it. This process extends
over a two-week period, and the blotters are repeatedly replaced to facilitate drying. The goal of conservation isn’t to make a drawing look new again. Rather, it’s to safely reduce the damage that distracts from the design and bring the sheet closer to
the artist’s original intent. Evidence of age is still present, but now recedes into the background so that you may focus on the drawing.

24 thoughts on “Conserving Old Master Drawings: A Balancing Act

  1. @mrsillywalk – i would love to know why you believe she should wear gloves or a mask?
    the reason that white gloves are sometimes encoraged in libraries is to prevent the transfer of dirt (and skin oils) onto a sheet of paper- however gloves wil reduce the wearers senstivity so he/she may cause more damage.therefore clean hands pose much less risk.
    while 100% ammonia is harmful, most household cleanind products would contain more harmful chemicals that what is being used here.

  2. 1) what is she using when pasting japanese paper?
    2) what is % of ammonia and water?
    3)should the ethanol be mixed in ammonium water?

  3. No, gloves are not appropriate in most paper and book conservation, however clean, washed hands are. Gloves create a false tactile surface since paper is so thin and fragile and as previously stated can easily cause more damage to the paper then wanted.

  4. Additionally, masks are not always necessary either. The conservator here is using a suction table which is pulling the material and consequently the residual vapors from the object. When suction tables are not used, normally when using harsh chemicals, it is done in a vacuum hood. Hope this helps clarify. P.S. This is the Getty, they know what they are doing.

  5. She is using a bone folder and wheat paste to adhere the Japanese tissue to the paper. The amount of ammonia is small I believe in the water dilution. The ethanol I do not believe is mixed with the ammonium water. If anything, the ethanol may be diluted with water. If I remember correctly, ethanol is often used to spot treat mold.

  6. If you go to cool.conservation org and search Cleaning of Works of Art: Alternatives to Conventional Methods of Reducing on Paper Discoloration in Works of Art on Paper. Hope that helps 🙂

  7. I'm not sure if anyone on behalf of the Getty Museum response to these messages, but, if you happen to do so, I was wondering if you have any information of the type of paper in this video?  What kind of fibre or pulp is it made from?  Would love to know more.

  8. Cool drawing, not too pretentious or complicated, just some dude having a drink, but still skilfully inked with a pen 😀
    Almost looks like it could have been made in a bar by candlelight while being bored.

  9. Has the Getty Museum incorporated non-destructive Raman chemical analysis instrumentation into its preservation and conservation programs?

  10. Gloves aren’t used as much when handling brittle papers, because gloves decrease tactile feedback to the conservator. They’re less likely to damage paper if they don’t wear gloves. They need their hands well cleaned with no lotion on hands.

  11. You could have avoided a lot of pointless comments by explaining why she didn’t wear gloves .. my gut reaction was to backhand the bitch when she touched it barehanded but then I chilled the F out

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