EXAMINATION AND CONSERVATION OF OIL PAINTINGS ON CANVAS IN THE FORT MUSEUM, CHENNAI: CASE STUDIES

Chandrapandian.V, Dy. Suptdg. Archl. Chemist, Sreelatha Rao, Asst. Suptdg. Archl. Chemist, Manivannan. K, Asst. Archl. Chemist, Soban Dinesh. C, Asst. Archl. Chemist, Sampathkumar. S, Modeller Grade- I, Science Branch, Archaeological Survey of India, Chennai Zone, Chennai – 600 009.
Sriraman, P.S, Asst. Suptdg. Archaeologist, Fort Museum, Chennai – 600 009.
Jeyaraj. V, Director, Hepzibah Institute of Heritage Conservation, Chennai – 600 078.

Abstract

The Exchange Building of the Fort St George, Chennai was built in 1795 by the free merchants who were engaged in private trade. A museum was set up in this Exchange Building to house the relics of the colonial period in 1948 by the Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India. It has more than four thousands artefacts of colonial period including oil paintings on canvas. Portraits of the British Royal personalities and Arcot Nawabs displayed in the Portraits Gallery are very impressive and especially the portraits of King and Emperor Edward VII and his Empress Consort, Queen Alexandra drew more attention in the conservation point of view as they were affected by various environmental factors prevailing inside the museum. These early 20th century paintings are oil on canvas and mounted on decorative wooden frames.

Due to age as well as various environmental factors acting upon the components of canvas paintings, they were affected by oxidation, wrinkling, slacking, tear of the canvas, flaking and bulging of paint layer by loss of adhesive power, formation of craquelures, cracks and darkening of the varnish layer etc. Besides, they were covered with particulate matter especially coal dust as the Fort Museum is facing the Chennai Port where coal is unloaded and loaded in the open yard.

These paintings were taken up for conservation and restoration in order to bring back to their original status. The first step was to make an attempt to analyse the problems of conservation including finding out the various pigments, varnish and other additives which had been coated on the surface of the paintings from its creation by instrumental analysis. Based on the analysis the cleaning of varnish, suppression of cracks, support to the weak canvas, in-painting the loss of pigments, treatment to the frame and repainting the frame etc., were carried out. The details will be seen in the full paper.

 

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