Technique and condition

Painted in artists' oil colours on an unprimed linen canvas, the painting had been lined, restretched and restored before acquisition. There is a 1950 pencil study of the composition 1 which has construction lines and squaring up which may also have been repeated on the canvas, although no evidence of initial drawing remains visible. The painting follows the overall composition of the drawing but varies substantially in its details.

The canvas has no pigmented priming but was probably sized before painting to prevent the paint penetrating into it. Painting directly onto the canvas, Ayrton has made full use of its colour and texture. Several dark passages, such as the hair of the child on the left, use the colour of the bare canvas and in many areas of the foreground and figures he has created successive layers of broken colour by brushing stiff paint across the tops of the canvas texture. The vibrant colours and forms are developed in superimposed films of scumbled and impasted paint. Many features were substantially altered as the painting progressed. An early photograph of the painting, reproduced in Cannon-Brooke's monograph on Ayrton, differs in several details from the existing state of the painting: most obviously the fall of the drapery between the legs of the woman on the right has been layered by adding strong diagonal folds across the curvilinear, smooth, limb hugging folds visible in the early photograph.

The subsequent restoration also changed the appearance of the painting. The tacking edges were cut off, the painting lined onto a linen canvas with a wax-resin adhesive and restretched onto its expandable wood stretcher. Copious quantities of the adhesive penetrated through the canvas, darkening it and coating the surface of the painting with a dirty wax film. During the process of heating the wax and pressing the canvas, deep linear troughs were formed in the paint and surrounding wax, towards the top left corner. They were filled and overpainted along with other minor damages after lining. These restorations are on top of the layer of wax, whereas the earlier alterations in the artists' hand lie below it and were there before the lining. On acquisition the painting was in an unstable state. The lining canvas had begun to separate from the back of the original canvas, paint was flaking off the edges and the stretcher did not adequately support the canvas. The painting was treated to secure loose paint, the layer of dirty wax and retouchings were cleaned and the lining canvas and adhesive were removed from the back. The canvas was not relined but new tacking edges were adhered to the back perimeter of the canvas and it was stretched over a rigid composite panel. The painted surfaces of the picture were thinly varnished with synthetic resin and the small areas of damage retouched.

The narrow, plain wood frame, that the paintings was acquired in, was replaced with a new painted, moulded wood frame of similar design to frames fitted to other paintings of the period by Ayrton.

Roy Perry