The painting The Eaters by Lucebert, which has been in possession of the University since 1969, has been completely restored. The triptych was an important art object in the University canteen for years, but was put in a depot afterwards. In 2008 it returned, and it is now hanging on a wall in the A-building. But it had been collecting dust and dirt for a long time.
The ravages of time haven’t done the painting much good. “During its time in the depot, the borders of the panels were damaged. We are restoring that now”, said restorer Marjan de Visser. Together with her colleague Amelie Schwark, she started working on the painting two weeks. It’s a very meticulous process, of analyzing, measuring, cleaning, conserving and after that, restoring.
Lucebert painted The Eaters in 1969, commissioned by the University. He painted it with a relatively new material: acrylic paint. “Restoring an acrylic painting is much harder than an oil painting”, Marjan de Visser explained. “We only have about fifty years of experience with it, while oil paint has been around for centuries. So we know far less about the aging process.”
Very delicate job
“We are cleaning the painting with swabs,” De Visser explains. “But you can’t do it with regular distilled water, because that isn’t pH-neutral.” It’s a very delicate job: each colour in the painting has its own level of acidity. So for every colour, you have to adapt the cleaning liquid. “We roll the swabs over the painting very carefully. When we see black or grey on the swab, it’s dirt, so it’s fine. When we see colour on the swab, the paint is coming off. Turquoise turned out to be so fragile that we couldn’t clean it with water at all.”
At this moment, De Visser and Schwark are busy restoring all the dents and tears in the painting. “You have to be careful though. For example, we discovered some brown glue stains. Just before we started to remove them, we discovered they weren’t there by accident. Some of Lucebert’s paint trickled over the brown stains, so they must be original. So we decided to keep the stains.”
Amelie Schwark working on the painting. Image: ES
The dents and tears are puttied and painted over in the original colour. The process of finding a matching colour requires nothing more than a set of experienced eyes. “You start by looking at which primary colours the painter used in the surrounding parts of the dent. Then you mix those colours until it starts to look like the colour you’re after.”
Last friday, the restoration was completed. From now on, the aging process will start all over again. But this time, De Visser took photos of the as good as new painting. By doing this, the next time the painting has to be restored, the restorers will know exactly what the painting looked like in 2015. ES
The finished painting. Image: Marjan de Visser.