are artists/conservators at one of the
largest museums of fine art
As museum conservators, we have decades of experience in studying and
investigating the techniques and technology of painters of all periods.
We examine the structure and methods of applying prime coats, subsequent
layers of paint and the structure of the brush strokes. The scientific
copying of an original painting is one of the fundamental disciplines of
the comprehensive study of painting techniques at our
Art Conservation Department.
Before the department begins work on a copy, the restorers examine the
original painting under a microscope, determining the composition of the
paints and pigments, the sequence of the brushstrokes, previous
restorations, etc. They study how the artist prepared the canvas prior
to beginning work. They examine whether the artist touched up the
underpainting and how the effect of luminescence was achieved.
All these investigations help our talented artists/restorers to produce
an absolutely identical replica of the original. They even attempt (if
appropriate) to convey the effect of a coat of yellowing varnish or the
darkened texture of the paint, in imitation of the original. The
objective is to achieve such a likeness that not even a professional can
visually distinguish the copy from the original.
process begins when the original painting is transferred from the museum
depository to the conservation laboratory, where microscopes and special
analytical equipment are on hand. If the original hangs in an exhibition
hall, the artist/restorer copies the original in situ.
The most complicated tasks are also the most interesting, particularly
when a new approach or an unusual solution is required. Such
complexities often present the artist/restorer with a real conundrum,
especially if there is an intricate composition with a large number of
figures or a complicated palette (what was the sequence in which the
figures were added or the paints applied?). Unruly, unpredictable and
expressionist brushstrokes provide another challenge. This dedication to
perfection requires an enormous amount of time and patience, but the
results speak for themselves.
In the process of reconstructing the original technique of each
individual painter, we do not use the fabric primed canvases sold in
special artists' shops. We prepare each canvas individually, using 100%
linen canvases in exact accordance with the texture and thread structure
of the original. We stretch the canvas onto a wooden stretcher and paste
it several times using special glue. After the glue has dried,
a prime coating based on historical methods.
try to make the surface identical to that of the original painting. In
order to do so, we either create a thoroughly polished ground surface
completely covering the structure of the canvas threads (particularly
good when imitiating works painted on wood) or a thin ground only
partially concealing the texture of the canvas. The colour of the ground
is also extremely important. It has to be identical to the original. We
make it coloured if our investigations show that the painter did it this
way. The ground of Isaac Levitan's Moon. Twilight, for example, had a
Here is how we did it..
It is also extremely important to follow the exact same order and
procedure of work as the original painter. We do the drawing and
touching exactly as it would have been done by the master. We first draw
the whole picture, right down to the smallest details, in brown oils and
The resulting picture looks like the finished work, only in
'black-and-white' (named 'grisaille'). It is a pity that the observer will never see this
part of work, which will later be covered with coats of paint. But we do
it all the same, because this is the key to the accurate conveying of
all the hues of the surface, based on an exact reproduction of every
layer of paint applied by the master. A new layer of paint is often
applied as a semi-liquid, transparent coat, in order to bring out the colour of the paint in the layer immediately beneath. Thickened linseed
oil is used here, helping to recreate the depth and transparency of the
layers of paint. The contrast between the textural and volumetric
application of the paints on the light sections of the picture and the
thin, semi-transparent shades creates a thrilling play of different
tones. This is the magical moment when the lower layers of grisaille
start to perform their role, creating the fantastic effects of
luminescence and depth.
that's not the end of the story! When all the upper layers of painting
have completely dried, we apply a new semi-transparent coat of paint,
making it look as if our painting was actually created many decades or
centuries ago. The only thing we do not do is create artificial
craquelure, as this would be going too far. We have to be very careful
not to cross the thin line dividing a first-rate copy from a clever
fake! Neither do we ever attempt to age the verso of the canvas or the
If the original artist did not cover his masterpiece with a layer of
varnish, we also recreate an unvarnished, matt surface. Every painting
demands an individual approach and each stage in this painstaking
process is unique. The most important thing is that our finished copy
evokes the exact same feelings of delight and rapture as the original
masterpiece. Then we have succeeded.
The greatest pleasure for us is the when we submit our copy to the
special Expert Copy Commission, which compares our
creation to the original (this is always done on the completion of each
work). Very seldom can the members of the commission immediately
distinguish between the original and our replica. Only the slight
obligatory difference in size and the absence of a signature on the
facial side shows which work is the copy. The astonished faces and
enthusiastic conclusions of the commission members are the best reward
of all in our complicated yet fascinating job of reconstructing a
painting by a Great Master.