Technique and condition

The work is painted on a sheet of hardboard, manufactured by Royal Board of Sweden. The artist nailed the 3mm thick hardboard onto a framework of four wooden battens which provide some structural support. The front, smooth face was sanded and the corners were protected with thin, short, metal strips that were bent and nailed into the battens. The support is intact but it has a tendency to torque during handling.

The front face of the hardboard and the outer edges of the battens were prepared with a layer of glossy, commercial priming. In an artist’s interview 1994, Caulfield responded to an interviewer’s question about the priming saying, “...but it was a gloss paint I think I used, it was called eggshell. I used to use different... I can’t remember their names, just any commercial brand, Crown, Dulux, etc.”

The paint media and some pigments were analysed in 1997. The binding medium was identified as an oil-modified, alkyd resin. The pigments in the light blue background were identified as titanium dioxide with small quantities of china clay and possibly gypsum fillers. The blue pigment was not detected but it is likely to be a pthalocyanine blue, possibly with a small amount of an azo yellow.

Underdrawing is faintly visible to the eye in some areas. When asked about preparation drawings in an artist’s interview 1998, Caulfield said, “I might have squared it up or I might have done a tracing, although I can’t remember tracing them at the time. I never projected anything. I drew on to the hardboard, just transfer it [the image] visually... fairly freely and make corrections until I got it just right.” Under infrared examination the extent of the underdrawing becomes apparent, showing freely sketched lines and some changes in the positions of flowers.

Opaque paints were layered onto the front face in solid lines and fields with no blending of colours on the surface. Generally, a colour field was laid in first, then the black outlines were painted on, then another layer of colour may be applied. From the artist’s interview 1998 Caulfield said, “It is likely I would have drawn the vase and then coloured them in... I would have touched it up, I never got them accurate at the first go.”

Some edges show a slight amount of wet-in-wet mixing, most likely unintentional. Masking tape was used to achieve the crisp edges of the black, straight lines surrounding the vases and flowers. There is some paint bleed onto the surrounding green-blue paint. The blue-green paint in between the double lines is not as glossy as the surrounding paint and has taken on the slightly roughened texture of the masking tape adhesive surface.

The paint is generally very smooth, flat and glossy. However, there are number of inclusions across the surface. The surface is broken with numerous tiny, sharp bumps, and small nail heads around the outer front edge also break the flat plane of the surface. The paint thickness varies slightly across the surface according to the number of paint layers in a particular field or line.

Paint was applied with a brush. In some areas the application is somewhat uneven. For example, the background was applied largely in broad strokes, vertical and horizontal, first in a yellow-green colour, then covered in a blue-green colour. A small patch of the yellow-green paint remains exposed between the red flower and green stem in the right floral element. The blue-green paint was applied after the flowers and vases were painted. The paint had some flow when it was applied but not enough to settle out the brushstrokes completely. Thus, the area around the flowers and vases is slightly uneven, showing shorter brush strokes following the contours of the shapes, in contrast to the broad, even, strokes of the rest of the background. The contours are not precisely followed, occasionally exposing the yellow-green paint below. The paint has also built up slightly more thickly, resulted in some wrinkling. The painting is not varnished.

Paint is flaking away from the edges and surfaces of the nails, around the perimeter of the front face. There are a series of losses along the front bottom edge which include losses to the paint and ground layers and gouges in the wood. The corners are scuffed with small losses and scratches through the paint. The other edges have small paint and ground losses, some scratches and scrapes. Apart from these damages, the paint is good condition.

Patricia Smithen
September 2001