The art of restora­tion

If you’ve a pre­cious fam­ily heir­loom that’s look­ing a bit tired, or you’ve ac­ci­den­tally poked a hole in a trea­sured paint­ing, don’t panic – help is at hand

EDP Norfolk - - Art - www.nor­folk­con­ser­va­tion.co.uk Alice also gives talks and holds work­shops on paint­ing restora­tion.

HAVE you ever seen a Rubens mas­ter­piece close-up? I mean re­ally close up?

Art re­storer Alice Yer­gol has – in fact she is one of an elite few in the world who have ac­tu­ally han­dled and worked on one of the Flem­ish master’s paint­ings. Client con­fi­den­tial­ity means that the de­tails of this tale re­main tan­ta­lis­ingly out of reach and Alice won’t be per­suaded to spill the beans.

“I re­ally can’t say,” she says a lit­tle apolo­get­i­cally. “It was a pri­vate col­lec­tor’s.” Un­der­stand­able, re­ally, that client con­fi­den­tial­ity should be so im­por­tant when deal­ing with art­works worth sig­nif­i­cant sums of money – last year, for in­stance, Rubens’ Lot and his Daugh­ters sold for a star­tling £44,882,500.

Since 2010 Alice, work­ing from her light, bright and pin-neat stu­dio at her Blofield home, has taken in dam­aged or dirty paint­ings and, with a com­bi­na­tion of del­i­cate touch and in­fi­nite pa­tience, re­stored them to their for­mer glo­ries.

She em­barked on a ca­reer in art af­ter a visit to Paris with her mum, which in­volved quite a lot of gallery vis­its. “Mum said; ‘I have seen ev­ery paint­ing in France!’” laughs Alice. She fol­lowed up her art his­tory de­gree from the UEA with a Masters from

New­cas­tle and then fol­lowed that with spells work­ing in some of the great houses and mu­se­ums in Bri­tain, in­clud­ing the V&A, and also the Ri­jksmu­seum in Am­s­ter­dam.

It gave her a good ground­ing in the dis­ci­plines of con­ser­va­tion, restora­tion and re­pair be­fore she re­turned to Blofield to set up her own busi­ness, Nor­folk Art Con­ser­va­tion. Since then, art own­ers, pri­vate and com­mer­cial, have come to her for her ex­per­tise to re­vive their art­works.

The process is a care­ful and col­lab­o­ra­tive one. “I talk to the own­ers to get their opinion on what they think needs do­ing,” says Alice, “look­ing at the struc­ture, sta­bil­ity, flak­ing or fad­ing paint, yel­low var­nish, dirt, then come up with a plan and help them un­der­stand the process.”

It is painstak­ing work and pieces can re­main with Alice for months. Oc­ca­sion­ally she has to re­pair dam­age done by wellinten­tioned own­ers try­ing to clean up a grubby paint­ing a lit­tle – in­clud­ing one in­stance where the kitchen cleaner Jif was used, with predictable re­sults.

Alice’s own tech­niques are rather more so­phis­ti­cated, in­volv­ing spe­cially-for­mu­lated sol­vents and cot­ton buds for clean­ing and tiny, del­i­cate brush­strokes for restor­ing dam­aged paint­work. “Ev­ery­thing I do is re­versible,” adds Alice. “I add a new layer of var­nish be­fore I add new paint on top of that, so any re­storer in fu­ture would be able to see what I have done us­ing ul­tra­vi­o­let light and re­move it, if nec­es­sary.”

She some­times has to re­pair phys­i­cal dam­age too, where a paint­ing has fallen or had a hole put in it in an ac­ci­dent or suf­fered a knock to the frame.

So what makes a good re­storer? “Pa­tience

and the abil­ity to plan and work metic­u­lously,” says Alice, an ac­cred­ited mem­ber of the In­sti­tute of Con­ser­va­tion, adding: “Noth­ing is be­yond re­pair. It is quite re­ward­ing when clients think some­thing is not go­ing to come back but ends up re­ju­ve­nated.”

The range of art she works on spans 500 years, from the 16th cen­tury up to the 20th and one of her most re­cent tasks in­volved a large sur­re­al­ist piece from the 1930s. Her per­sonal pref­er­ence is for por­traits from the 16th and 17th cen­tury; “I like to work on por­traits. It is quite ex­cit­ing to work with a col­lec­tor and learn all the sto­ries.”

Her favourite artist is John Singer Sar­gent, the Ed­war­dian por­trait painter whose sub­jects in­cluded US Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt and Claude Monet, the lat­ter piece on show at Tate Bri­tain.

She would also like to pick up the brushes and cre­ate some of her own work again. “I some­times think it would be nice to take the sum­mer off and go paint­ing,” she said, “but it never hap­pens!”

Art con­ser­va­tor Alice Yer­gol.

A por­trait be­fore Alice cleaned it

The por­trait af­ter clean­ing

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