Two large ornate gilt frames with 18th c. French School paintings

Historic Information

La Carta is attributed to a “Prof. Gotti” from “The French School,” which is believed to have been in Paris. Numerous documents regarding this piece refer to the artist’s name with a number of different spellings (Gotti, Giotti, Giotta, Giotto), which could be a translation or error. Without devoting more time to perform microanalysis and research on the provenance of this piece, it is difficult to provide more information about “Prof. Gotti” or the exact school at which he taught other than to say this is a well done painting. Diana was purchased as a sister piece to La Carta and is attributed to a student of “Prof. Gotti” at the French school. This piece was originally thought to depict the Roman goddess of Minerva (also known as the Greek goddess Athena), but the symbolism in the painting evidenced the Roman myth of Diana instead (also known as Artemis in Greek mythology).

La Carta and Diana were acquired by the Hardy family in the 1990’s at their height of their wealth from their family business. As the paintings are believed to be French, they were purchased with the intention of displaying them in the Chateau lobby of the Hardy family’s Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, PA. The Chateau building which was modeled after the Ritz Carlton Paris and replicate for the Nemacolin resort. The two paintings currently hang side by side behind the Chateau’s concierge desk and are the centerpiece of the French themed art throughout the first floor.

For more information about visiting the art collection at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, please visit this link about The Hardy Family Art Collection. The Hardy Family’s fascinating art collection valued at over $45 million dollars and available for the enjoyment of all Nemacolin guests.

Artifact's Condition Prior to Treatment

La Carta and Minerva were both executed in an oil medium on a white preparatory ground layer. The ground layers did not appear to be well bonded to the canvas and structural concerns existing concerning the paintings’ stretchers. The paintings exhibited normal age and crackle patterns throughout; however, paint has begun to lift and flake away along these crack lines. Both canvases were very brittle, easily torn, and unable to support much weight on their own. La Carta’s lining adhesive was failing and the paint was subsequently flaking off of the canvas because the animal glue holding it to the original support was failing. Diana’s lining had also been poorly executed and was not well attached, which ha resulted in ripples on the front side of the canvas in isolated areas throughout the composition and deformation of the painting. The painting was also riddled with 62 parallel cuts/scratches (believed to be from a razor blade or utility knife), most of which were repaired at the time of the painting’s lining. Both paintings needed to be relined and have their current stretchers replaced with newly constructed poplar expansion bolt stretchers. The natural resin varnish coatings of both paintings were significantly discolored and had dirt, soot and nicotine on the surface, as well as embedded in the varnish. The paintings were believed to have been cleaned around fifty years ago; however, remnants of dirt and old varnish could be seen in the interstices of  both paintings due to incomplete past cleaning. Both paintings also did not have a uniform varnish coating, resulting in a semi-opaque appearance in some areas and a shiny or matte appearance in others. Areas of surface abrasion from previous cleaning attempts were visible. Upon visual inspection and ultraviolet illumination in our conservation studio, several tears and punctures in the painting that had been repaired in the past became visible. Past losses and damages to the original paint were also apparent and seemed to have been grossly overfilled and heavily overpainted using oil paints during two, if not three, previous restorations.

The spectacular frames accompanying both paintings are highly hand-carved and gilded using gold leaf. Each of the two frames contain both water and oil gilding, with many highly burnished surfaces over an ochre clay bole layer on La Carta and a grey bole layer on Diana. The gesso and gilding were cracked and flaking in isolated areas throughout the entirety of both frames.  The majority of the gold leaf on the surface of both frames was highly abraded, with worse wear on the La Carta frame, believed to be a result of repeated dusting and cleaning with a water-dampened cloth. Water gilding is water soluble; therefore those areas of the frames had been particularly susceptible to accumulated abrasion from moisture each time the frames were dusted. The wooden substrates of both frames had shrunk slightly with age and created voids between the backside of the gesso coating and the wood. When these fragile areas were hit or touched, the gesso had crumbled and flaked away. The surfaces of the frames were also noticeably dirty. In addition to the surface damage, there were more than a dozen parts of carved ornamentation missing from each frame. Several of the sections had cracked or fallen off because of glue joint failure, with the topknot of the Diana frame particularly fragile. The paintings were held into the frames with bent over finishing nails.

 

Treatment of Artifact

Conservation treatment of these paintings and frames were completed during a six-week period. First, the paintings were carefully unpacked and unframed after being shipped to our studio. Discolored varnish coatings, old original remnants of varnish, overpaint, and embedded dirt remaining from previous restoration attempts were removed from both paintings using organic solvents. Embedded dirt in the paint surfaces was removed with a concentrated detergent, followed by a solvent rinse. This also dissolved the previous restorer’s overpaint, especially on the extensive fills in La Carta. Losses on La Carta had been previously filled with a white, window putty-like material that could be mechanically carved off of the surface. All of the extensive cuts or tears on Diana that were not properly joined were mended and realigned using a clear, two-part, conservation-grade epoxy resin. The old fills from previously repaired tears and losses were removed before the edges of the tears were realigned and secured with a two-part conservation grade clear epoxy resin adhesive. The back of both paintings were coated with a modern wax/resin adhesive mixture and infused on the vacuum hot table. New Belgian linen lining canvases were also infused with the same mixture. The original canvases and new lining canvases were joined on the vacuum hot table using a thermoplastic adhesive. The newly re-lined canvases were re-stretched onto new stable expansion bolt stretchers and secured with staples before being keyed out. An isolating spray coating of synthetic varnish was applied to the paintings in order to separate any inpainting from the work of the original artist. The chosen varnish is easily removed with mild organic solvents in the future, if required. Losses were filled with gesso and inpainted with conservation grade paints. An additional spray coating of synthetic varnish was applied to the paintings upon the completion of inpainting.

Surface cleaning was completed on all surfaces of both frames using solvents to remove grime, dirt, overpaint, deteriorating animal skin glue toning, and soot. Lifting gesso, gilder’s composition, and gilding were consolidated using conservation-grade varnish and polyvinyl acetate adhesive. All cracking wooden frame substrate sections were also consolidated using polyvinyl acetate adhesive and wooden support splints applied from the back with wood screws. The topknot section of the Diana frame was removed along its weak joint and reattached for added strength and stability. Missing ornamentation was cast from intact corresponding frame sections using a two-part carvable resin bulked with microspheres. The cast sections were reattached to the frame using polyvinyl acetate adhesive and reinforced stainless steel reinforcing pins where necessary. Frame losses were filled with gesso. The surfaces were then prepared for gilding by applying new gesso on the newly cast ornament sections, fills, and areas where the original abraded gilding had very little remaining gesso base. Appropriate clay boles were applied to the frame surfaces to match original work, followed by animal skin glue size. Recessed areas were oil gilded, while the remaining surfaces were water gilded and burnished to a mirror finish using agate burnishers. Italian loose leaf 23.75 karat Rosenoble Double gold leaf by Giusto Manetti Battiloro was used for both water and oil gilding on both frames. Mica powders mixed with varnish were used for toning edges and exposed backs of ornamentation. A curatorial discussion was held with the collection’s curator and a joint decision was made to lightly abrade the newly gilded areas using #0000 steel wool, producing a slightly worn appearance to match the original remaining gilded areas on this frame. The surface of the new leaf was also toned using animal glue size with added raw umber pigment where necessary to match the original gilding.

The paintings were properly framed with brass mending plates, braided picture wire, “D” ring hangers, and a corrugated plastic backing board. Great care was taken during re-framing to avoid any contact to the carved frame edges or fragile gold leaf that would create disruption. Inscriptions and labels from the old stretchers were retained, encapsulated in Mylar, and mounted on the backing board.

Packing & Shipping of the Artifacts

These pieces were originally transported from Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in western Pennsylvania to our Carlisle, PA studio by a local shipping company; however, because the shipping company was reported during previous transports to not be using environmental conditions or handling techniques appropriate for fine art, Hartmann Conservation’s staff was trusted to transport the finished artwork back to Nemacolin using our own custom fabricated boxes, careful wrapping, climate controlled vehicle, insurance policy, and trained staff. These frames were a challenge to handle and transport, as the sheer size and ornate carving left few acceptable places to handle the frames securely without breaking or re-breaking the fragile frame, or further abrading its newly gilded and burnished surfaces.

Management of this project required augmenting Hartmann Conservation’s own conservation staff to complete specialized gilding and conservation of the surviving gold leaf on the heavily ornamented frames of both paintings. Extensive frame stabilization and the fragility of the frame surfaces’ gilding required exceptionally careful handling; white glove transport by our staff with the pieces housed in custom fabricated boxes to avoid disruption of the gold leaf; and difficult installation in tight quarters behind a stationary marble concierge desk during normal business hours at the resort. All conservation work was overseen and directed under the guidance and comprehensive condition/treatment reporting of John Hartmann, with all work performed according to the approved proposal. Upon the discovery that the paintings’ stretchers were no longer structurally sound, the client was informed of our recommendation to replace both stretchers and reline the La Carta painting at an amended project cost, with plans to proceed discussed and subsequently approved. These pieces were under coverage for the duration of the project by Hartmann Conservation’s standard commercial automotive, liability, and Fine Arts insurance policies. While it was a challenge to coordinate staff efforts and all conservation tasks to deliver the project on a very rushed preholiday deadline, Hartmann Conservation was able to complete the treatments and transport the reframed paintings back to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort on time and to the client’s satisfaction. Museum-quality, conservation-grade materials and techniques were used throughout, including during the careful handling, transportation, and reinstallation of the pieces at the exhibit location by our staff under John Hartmann’s supervision and direction. Upon completion of the project, Hartmann Conservation provided the client with a full treatment report, documentary photographs, housekeeping guidelines, and discussions about museum-quality collections care techniques, as well as an offer to train staff members in proper cleaning and maintenance over the course of our ongoing working relationship.

Photographic Documentation