Technique and condition

The support is a plain-woven, linen canvas of medium-fine weight. It is attached to a rectangular wooden stretcher (not the original, though that too would have been this shape). The canvas is primed all over with a white ground, which is of a complex construction. First the canvas was coated with an even layer of an off-white paint, containing chalk, lead white, lamp black and red pigments. Before a second coat of the same was brushed on, the whole surface was given a thin coat of unpigmented, animal-glue size. The final layer is of a different composition - mainly lead white with some chalk, lamp black and red. It may have been applied some time after the first ground, as in one sample it can be seen penetrating a crack in the substrate. All layers appear to be bound in oil. The surface of the ground is dense, white, smooth and even.

The image is octagonal in shape; the spandrels at each corner, normally hidden by the frame, are painted brick-red. Although this paint does not extend beneath the whole painting, it is evident with microscopic inspection that it was applied before the composion was begun. No underdrawing or underpainting is visible with surface microscopy but a cross-section from the blue drapery shows a thin but opaque pale bluish grey underlayer. The main pigment in this drapery is Prussian blue, which occurs also in the sky, along with vermilion, a red organic pigment, ivory or bone black and lead white. Examination of the edges normally covered by the frame shows that the blue has faded slightly in the sky and sea. The yellow drapery contains mixtures of yellow ochres with Naples yellow and lead white.

Tests with heat on microscopic samples indicated that the binding medium in the paint is unmodified oil. Despite this or perhaps because of the final 'fat' ground layer, the painting has developed a network of fine shrinkage cracks, which have been retouched. The canvas has a glue lining, which is probably of early twentieth-century origin. The varnish and restoration are more recent, though old enough for the varnish, which looks like dammar, to have yellowed slightly.

Rica Jones
November 1997