Canvas paintings have been around for hundreds of years. They consist of three parts: the canvas, the pigment or paint, and stretcher bars. The stretcher bar is made like a wooden frame. It really protects the back of the canvas while the frame protects the front of the painting. The canvas is pulled taught around the wooden stretcher and attached to the bar. If your canvas portrait is attached to the stretcher by nails, your painting was probably completed in 1940 or earlier. If you canvas is attached by staples, then your painting was done after 1940.
My customer had a canvas painting of his great-great grandmother from the late 1800s. It was attached to the stretcher bar with nails. The canvas had not been protected for many years, being stored in an attic and then a barn. The paint was peeling, canvas cracking and wearing thin with holes over the entire canvas.
How you store old images is extremely important. Low temperature and a low relative humidity is best. Cooler temperatures slow the decay and help keep bugs away. Humidity below 65% helps to reduce the growth of mold but very low humidity can cause the photograph to become brittle.
My customer’s cousin had owned the canvas and had it restored for himself and family members. The cousin offered a copy of the restoration to my customer. My customer was given the original canvas and brought it to me for a ‘new’ restoration. The canvas was 16×20 and too large for my scanner, so I photographed the lady and began work.
We don’t know if the original artist decided to change the lady’s jewelry or if another ‘artist’ decided to add more jewelry. She had some jewelry on in the painting but the modification of her ‘bling’ was definitely confusing.
After deciding that less is more, some of the additional jewelry was removed. We decided to leave the large chain around her neck although it was probably added in post-production of the image. Cracks were repaired and some parts were re-created. She was finally restored, reprinted on canvas, stretched and framed. The old lady is in pretty good shape now.
Please protect portraits and pictures that mean something to you by keeping them in a clean, climate controlled environment with low relative humidity and cool temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.