The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 1: “The Work Before The Work”

The Conservation of Guy Wiggins –  Episode 1: “The Work Before The Work”


In this series we’re going to be taking an
in-depth look at the entire conservation process as it relates to one painting. This untitled scene of Fifth Avenue in winter
executed in oil on canvas by the American impressionist painter Guy Wiggins arrived
at the studio in need of desperate conservation. The painting had an accumulation of surface
grime and the old varnish had discolored, the paint layer was heavily cracked and beginning
to flake off in spots and the old conservation work, completed sometime in the 1960’s had
begun to fail and was no longer serving any beneficial purpose. The clients had owned the piece for generations
dating back to when Wiggins himself gave the piece to a relative. During that time the piece was generally well
cared for though age and exposure to adverse conditions had taken a toll on the work. The clients were interested in conserving
and restoring the piece and stabilizing it for the enjoyment of future generations. The first step in any conservation is the
visual examination. Looking at the painting to gather as much
data as possible before touching it is essential to understanding the piece as a whole. In addition, looking at the old conservation
to understand how and why it was done will better enable its reversal and addressing
of the underlying issues that prompted it. While seemingly simple, the visual examination
will allow me to get a better understanding of the painting in its current state and afford
me the time and headspace to consider the materials and techniques that I may have to
employ to achieve my client’s desired result. After the visible light examination we switch
to ultraviolet or blacklight, which allows the conservator to observe the fluorescence
of the materials and gather more information that may not be clear to the naked eye. This examination can reveal old retouching,
new materials, help differentiate between mediums, pigments and varnishes. Learning how to read the fluorescence takes
years of practice and can be more of an art than science. Deep purples can often be read as old retouching
or recently added pigment; bright greens can be seen as discolored layers of varnish. Then again, some pigments such as zinc and
titanium white naturally fluoresce even if they’re original and masking agents such as
shellac and polyurethane are employed to conceal the newer work and all but prevent the UV
light wavelength for being an effective tool. In addition to all of the time spent looking
at the artwork it’s helpful to spend some time on the artist. By researching the painting and the artist
we can learn about their working process, the materials they may have used and if there
are any potential issues that lie in wait. Further, if we can learn more about the artists’
body of work and vision we can better execute the conservation with that in mind. In addition, as this work was previously conserved
we can investigate the materials and techniques that were common during the 1960’s in an effort
to avoid costly scientific testing and better prepare for the work ahead. After all of the visual examination and research
is concluded we can move to the physical testing of the materials. Detailed notes are essential and will be referenced
multiple times as the conservation proceeds. A small sample of the lining adhesive is taken
from the tacking edge and stored for testing. As the lining will be removed it may be necessary
to send this sample to a lab if it’s composition cannot be determined locally. The first step in cleaning a painting is removing
the grime that can consist of dust, dirt, cooking oils, cigarette smoke, chimney and
furnace soot and other particulate matter. The chemicals used to remove the varnish often
have difficulty penetrating through the grime layer which can lead to the use of increasingly
stronger and more aggressive solvents which is not only unnecessary but can expose the
paint layer to the possibility of damage. Starting with distilled water we will work
our way through various detergents, enzyme solutions, soaps and other agents until we
find one that is effective. These small tests are conducted in inconspicuous
areas usually at the edges of the painting that is covered by the frame rabbet. Once an adequate cleaner has been identified
for the grime the testing of the varnish can begin. Natural resin varnishes can yellow over time
with exposure to ambient UVA and UVB light or become cloudy and brittle. Starting with the mildest of solvents and
varying in composition and increasing in strength the areas where the grime was removed are
tested until the varnish is adequately and safely removed. It is often necessary to test different areas
of the painting as different paint colors or brands can have different reactions to
the same solvent. That is, while the white may be stable, the
blue may be fugitive and the cleaning approach must vary to reflect this. Relying on years of experience and research
we can narrow the possible lining adhesives before we make any tests. By observing the sample’s reaction as well
as using the sense of smell the identification of the adhesive as rabbit skin glue allows the removal
approach to be determined.

100 thoughts on “The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 1: “The Work Before The Work”

  1. I love these restorations and seeing the original art in it's original condition, but I do also love seeing the effects of time on a painting, it gives the painting extra character beyond the painting it'self and shows how long the painting has existed for. I like the paintings in both conditions. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Damn. This man is not only a restorer. He's also a detective. The amount of research that goes into a single painting is insane.

  3. I want to become an art restorer. I’m 13 so the subjects I choose will affect my future and I’m taking all subjects I need to get into a course at uni. So this series is very helpful!!

  4. So I’ve been trying to watch all videos in consecutive order, but I keep falling asleep because they are very relaxing. 😔

  5. Question: what song did he use in the background? I have been trying to remember for a while and it's bugging me

  6. I looked up the paintings of Guy Carleton Wiggins. Man, that guy loved New York in winter! He painted it over and over.

  7. When you hit 1M subscribers, make sure Youtube sends you a banged up Gold Creator Award so you can make another video!

  8. Alright, late again, but i had to put watching this series on hold. And now that i can, finally, see it, i am speechless. I understood the moment i viewed your videos that conservation is not easy, but i didn't think it took this much! Though, there was a part of me thinking that. Im gonna watch the rest of the series now without comment. See ya soon!

  9. i can’t imagine how awesome it is to do research on an artist while one of their works of art is sitting next to you

  10. Dude, I am genuinely impressed with what you do. I had no idea that you research the artist, and do all of this background stuff. Before I saw this, I thought that what you did regularly on camera was hard work. Right on! Not to mention that I would not have the dedication and commitment to do all of that work. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference. If you love doing what you do, you'll do it.

  11. Is this part of the hour long video you mentioned elsewhere, or is that something else? (I'm going to be sad when I burn through all of your videos, they're so good!)

  12. Forgive me, but you have a beautiful nose, and you use it as a sophisticated tool for your craft. Art is multisensory, tactile, instinctive, and skillful. Like old masters of so many precious trades; atelier, blacksmithing, glassblowing, jeweler, horticulturist, leatherworks, restoration.. the finest involve the whole self in their process.

  13. I'm not very good with colours, smell, or small movements, so this isn't a career for me, but I really love learning about the art and science of art restoration. Very cool.

  14. I use old techniques when painting my paintings. this guarantees that there will be no conflicts between the pigments. If you make a mistake by mixing inappropriate pigments then you are sure that in the future the picture will change colour.

  15. Watching you work and listening to you explain it all is so relaxing and soothing. Your work is amazing and the world is honestly so lucky to have you working on these amazing pieces of history

  16. So were not gonna talk about of how easily and causullay he was writing in cursive at the begging of the video

  17. My great grandfather was a really good painter and he used varnish and stuff I think but it haven’t turned yellow yet and there open to the air but we only have three and there really valuable to us because this has been in our family for about 70 years and it hasn’t even started flacking which is kind of weird but we can’t afford to lose them at all

  18. Your work is so interesting. I knew art conservation existed, but had no previous exposure to the inner chamber. (edit clarification)

  19. Some people work 10 X harder for 10 X less $ 💰 $ – but very interesting show keep up the great work

  20. ❤️❤️❤️Clearly I’m not the only person that’s BEYOND geeked that Mr. Baumgartner has decided to create a series! I also wish the videos were a bit longer 😩😩😩😩😩 That said, I CAN’T be the only one that decided to play the videos back at slower speeds to make them seem longer that 5 minutes 😂. Thank you for all of your videos and for sharing a part of your world with us! I’m beaucoup excited for new restoration and series videos from you!!! ❤️❤️❤️

  21. My god, you're so professional in your work. It inspires me, even i'm not making part of this type of business.

  22. Such background music is unnecessary and distracting.
    Once you hear it and recognize it, it draws your ear’s attention away from what is being said.

  23. Your videos are excellent all around. Well shot, high quality, straightforward and informative. Fantastic branding and promotion for your business. Bravo!!

  24. So with a piece like this, is there any paper work about the old conservation? And do you make paper work on the new?

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