Polychrome wood sculptures
Living objects with changing robes
Polychrome wooden sculptures are often “living” objects that through their history undergo several adaptations to current trends. This is why the restorer often finds multiple layers of applied paint, which date back to different points in time. Besides that, the wooden carrier of polychrome sculptures can be seen and may also have already existed as an artwork in itself. Both aspects make sculptures highly complex art objects which are rich of information.
Wooden sculptures often suffer from inadequate environmental conditions: Excessive fluctuations in relative humidity or temperature induce tensions and material degradation which in the worst case lead to cracks in the wooden body or the loss of fragments. In addition, the dynamics of the wood often triggers partial delaminations or losses of the polychromy. Also microbial contamination and insect infestation result in an overall degradation of the wooden support.
I offer the conservation and restoration of wooden sculptures of all historical periods. This encompasses painted, gilded and decorated as well as plain wooden sculptures. The conservation of sculptures in a first instance aims to secure and consolidate the original structure to avoid further destabilization. It also deals with limiting the loss of material as well as removing harmful dirt and biological contamination. Subsequent restoration treatments target to regain a clearly legible and balanced appearance, while preserving the aged character of the sculpture respecting the stylistic changes that have taken place throughout history.
The following points indicate that a consultation of a restorer is advisable:
- The colour intensity is reduced and the overall appearance seems dusty.
- Pieces of the polychrome layer are already missing or you detect loosely attached paint layer at risk to get lost.
- Cracks in the wooden sculpture endanger its stability. Fragments of the sculpture have come off.
- Microbial contamination such as mould or insect attack can be observed.
The main steps of conservation & restoration treatments
"To conserve" means to preserve something that is still existing. "To restore" on the other hand, means to bring back something that has been lost. While conservation treatments are essential for the substantial preservation of an artwork, restoration measures have an aesthetic nature. The omission of restoration measures is therefore not acutely endangering the object, but it mostly prevents an undisturbed perception of the artwort. Thats why ususally restoration treatments are desirable.
Essential conservation treatments
Conservation and restoration works are always accompanied by a text and photographic documentation. This documentation records facts about the history of the object and its material and it provides information about the conservation and restoration treatment carried out. The pre-, intermediate and final state photographs allow to understand the particular operations. The documentation is also important for possible future restorations. Usually a documentation also contains recommendations for the preservation of the artwork.
Wooden sculptures are often affected by still active or already passive worm attack. If the worm infestation is still active, decontamination must first be carried out.
After that the stability lost must be restored in the course of a structural wood consolidation of the sculpture.
Broken fragments should also be reattached to the original.
Due to the hygroscopic characteristics of wood it reacts to fluctuations in humidity by increasing or decreasing in volume. The often rather rigid polychrome layers cannot necessarily follow these movements. As a conseequence it can lead to delaminations, lift offs or even total losses of the polychromy.
Any conservation and restoration measures should therefore be preceded by recognising and consolidating delaminated or loose polychromy to avoid its loss during the following measures.
Surface cleaning means the targeted removal of dirt and, if present, microbial contamination.
It serves either to improve the appearance of a sculpture and above all to preserve the object, since dirt promotes both the ageing of the material and microbial growth.
Possible restoration treatments
The addition or reconstruction of missing elements of a sculpture is not necessary for its preservation, but may be considered as a restoration measure. In principle, however, this implies an intervention in the integrity of a work and must be discussed from case to case.
The restoration of sculptures should always respect their aged conditions. A sculputre after restoration should therefore not just look like new.
Nevertheless, damages in the polychromy, which either endanger the substance or affect the readability and perception of a sculpture, should be treated by filling and retouching lacunas.
Applying putty, the existing lacunas can be brought back to the same level as the surrounding polxchrome layer. Filling is therefore a prerequisite for any successful colour integration of damages in the polychromic layers.
However, depending on the condition of the object, the scope of these measures can vary greatly in the case of sculptures. As restorer I can advise you to what extent an intervention is appropriate.