Description of the research group
The lining of canvas paintings is a remedial conservation method meant to reinforce the original canvas support by attaching a new canvas to the original one. The adhesives used for this purpose and the method of application vary depending on when and where the lining takes place. In the Netherlands, since the middle of the nineteenth-century, paintings have been lined with an adhesive mixture composed of beeswax and natural resin. The method was invented in the Netherlands by Nicolaas Hopman (1794-1870) and his son Willem Anthonij (1828-1910). For this reason, wax-resin lining is commonly called the “Dutch method.” Wax-resin lining not only aims to adhere a new canvas to the old one but also to fully impregnate the painting’s structure with the wax-resin adhesive by means of heat and pressure from a hot hand-held iron or a heated vacuum lining table. Until the 1970’s wax-resin lining was considered as an overall remedy and consequently about 90% of the canvas paintings preserved in the Netherlands today have been subjected to this method of treatment. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, the method disseminated throughout Europe and in 1911 it was brought to the United States by the Dutch restorer Carel de Wild (1870-1922). During the 1970’s research into the consequences of wax-resin lining for the condition and conservation of paintings exploded in scale. The results revealed problematic issues including colour changes of the original ground and/or paint layers, increased sensitivity of paint layers to solvents and warmth, as well as changes in surface texture. In 1974, a moratorium on the wax-resin technique was called. Since then use of the technique has declined and alternative methods were developed for example by Vishwa Mehra in the 1970’s in Amsterdam. Today wax-resin lining is rarely used. Nevertheless, painting conservators world-wide are confronted with the conservation of paintings that were wax-resin lined in the past. Restorations now take place while full insight into the effects of past linings on the material and physical characteristics of paintings is lacking. This is due to large lacunas in scientific research regarding the overall consequences of the technique for the present state of paintings. The research carried out by this research group aims to fill this gap.
Wax-resin lining was invented in the first half of the nineteenth-century and used extensively up until the 1970’s. In those days approaches towards conservation were very different than they are nowadays. This is due to the introduction of codes of ethics that were developed since the 1950’s by various conservation organizations worldwide. One point in common to all these codes is that the techniques and materials used for treatment should have “the least adverse effect on the cultural property” and “should not impede future treatment and examination.” Wax-resin linings, however, significantly and irrevocably affect the original characteristics of paintings. For example, after treatment the original canvas is covered by a second one and the paintings’ structure becomes fully impregnated with wax-resin causing colour changes and increased weight. Additionally, the lining process involves often a high degree of warmth and pressure, factors that are potentially detrimental to the texture of painted surfaces and the chemistry of paint. Furthermore, the saturation of paintings with wax-resin adhesive composed of materials known to be unstable upon ageing, is suspected to trigger chemical reactivity causing, for example, solvent sensitivity and soap formation in the paint film. This condition is particularly problematic since to date, no safe method for reversing the treatment has been devised. The research group on the conservation of wax-resin lined paintings investigates several topics which correspond to three main lines of research.
- History of wax-resin lining:
- Historical development of wax-resin lining in the Netherlands.
- History of the dissemination of wax-resin lining beyond the Dutch borders.
- History of the critique of wax-resin lining.
- Impact of wax-resin lining on the physical and material characteristics of paintings:
- Conditions and extent of colour change in paintings after wax-resin lining.
- Localization of the wax-resin adhesive in the structure of paintings.
- Influence of wax-resin lining on the physical and chemical aspects of paintings, in particular canvas, ground and paint film
- Consequences of wax-resin lining for conservation practice:
- Strategies for remedial conservation including, wax-resin extraction, de-lining and re-lining of wax-resin lined paintings.
- Strategies for restoration of wax-resin lined paintings (cleaning, reintegration and varnishing).
This research group contributes to the conservation of wax-resin lined paintings through research and education. The research group on the conservation of wax-resin lined paintings aims to:
- Create new knowledge on the history of wax-resin linings, the impact of the treatment on the material and physical characteristics of paintings, as well as the consequences thereof on conservation practice.
- Develop strategies for the conservation and restoration of wax-resin lined paintings.
- Share with students and professionals in the field of conservation the work of the research group through presentations, publications, website, digital forum, workshops, and expert meetings.
- Establish the leadership of the conservation-restoration program of the University of Amsterdam for research related to the conservation of wax-resin lined paintings.
The results of research are accessible through publications, conferences, and educational activities. The website shares research results of the group and other activities related to the conservation of wax-resin lined paintings.
Paintings are artefacts of cultural heritage. The ones that were considered worthy of being preserved for future generations owed this good fortune to the specific values society attached to them. The intangible values of paintings are manifested through their materiality. It is the conservator’s task to preserve the materiality of cultural objects such that their societal significance can be passed on to next generations. Wax-resin lining is a treatment that significantly and irrevocably affects the original materials and physical characteristics of paintings, including appearance. For more than a century, however, wax-resin linings have been carried out on a significant portion of paintings in Dutch collections, many of which belong to the top segment of our Dutch cultural heritage, including paintings by Frans Hals, Vincent van Gogh, and Rembrandt. From around 1910 the technique spread across the globe and reached for example the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Australia. In these countries too, valuable paintings were subjected the treatment. Furthermore, in a few places, even today wax-resin linings are still implemented on a daily basis. It is essential to develop awareness among students and professionals in conservation regarding the drawbacks of wax-resin lining on paintings and its problematic consequences for conservation and art history.
Research Group Type: Network & Project group
UvA members of the research group
- Prof. dr. Klaas Jan van den Berg (UvA and Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed)
- Prof. dr. Maarten van Bommel
- Prof. dr. Ella Hendriks
- Prof. dr. Katrien Keune (UvA and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)
External members of the research group
- Dr. Esther van Duijn (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)
- Dr. Margriet van Eikema Hommes (Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed and TUDelft)
- Drs. Ysbrand Hummelen (Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed and UM)
- Dr. Cecil Krarup-Andersen (Royal Danish School for Conservation)
- Michel van de Laar (free-Lance paintings conservator, Amsterdam)
- Mireille te Marvelde (Frans Hals Museum Haarlem)
- Kate Seymour (Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg)
- Saskia van Oudheusden (Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam)
- Louise Wijnberg (free-Lance paintings conservator, Amsterdam)