Technique and condition

The painting was executed onto two pieces of poor quality canvas that had been adhered directly onto a wall. Remains of the original adhesive, were found to contain lead white as well as plaster, both in a glue medium. After removal from the wall in 1929 the canvases were 'joined' by a strip of linen approximately 100mm wide, strip lined and later stretched in 1931. The alignment of the join is not exact and in sections the gap between the two canvases is 3mm. This strip has caused planar deformations visible on the paintings surface and is beginning to delaminate in small sections. The original painted decorative border whose exact dimensions are unknown has been cut down so that only a few centimetres are extant on the turn over edges. These remnants are particularly friable and have been subject to considerable flake loss. The canvas itself is very slack and has severe draws in the bottom corners. The original canvas is inherently weak and is not strong enough to adequately support the paint layer which is much stiffer than the canvas.

The canvas is primed with a matt, absorbent, off-white priming comprising mostly chalk, kaolin extender and some ivory black pigment. The medium is casein, and is probably commercially produced 'Case-Arte' casein priming. It is water soluble and very absorbent. It extends across the whole area and is relatively thinly applied. Brittle network cracking in the ground is found throughout the priming. In a number of areas the cracking has resulted in the surface becoming fragmented - broken into small islands of priming. Such areas may have been caused by the canvas being folded or rolled. Ground has been lost and abraded in a number of areas. The most obvious losses have been filled and retouched in the past. There are numerous other instances of more minor loss and abrasion that have not been filled.

In the companion piece Bathers both poppyseed oil and linseed oil with a small amount of beeswax were found in different areas. This suggests that commercially produced tube paints were probably used. The priming has probably leached some of the medium out of the paint and created an even matter leaner paint surface than the artist intended. The paint consistency varies from thick and relatively lean to more dilute and fluid. Initial drawing was carried out in fairly soft pencil or charcoal. Grant does appear to have been fairly selective about what he chose to draw. It has the appearance of positional notations as opposed to underdrawn outlines. The figures were then outlined with thin, washy viridian paint, before being strengthened with much drier, darker green paint made up of viridian and lead white and applied in thick, broken brush strokes.

The speed of application and fluidity of paint is evidenced by the drips a few mm long of various colours of paint, seen for instance in the head of the pink left hand figure. The distribution of paint is very uneven, much of the composition comprises the bare priming and in other areas such as the hair of the right hand figure the paint is thickly impasted. The thickness of the paint layer is also increased where Grant has changed his mind about the position of a form or contour and has blocked out and then repainted an area. There are several pentimenti such as the feet of the two middle figures, they are made more obvious due in part to the discrepancy between the colour of the paint used by Grant to block out his earlier placements and the surrounding ground colour. It is probable that the light coloured paint he used for this purpose has become more yellow and darkened over the years. The texture of the paint is varied. In places Grant has stippled the paint in other areas there is a strongly diagonal character to the broad brushmarks.

The age cracks in the thicker oil paint are fairly open and in some areas are raised, however, the most severe flaking is occurring along the turn over edges in the decorative border. The various consolidation campaigns to date appear to have been largely successful on the surface of the painting given the brittle and vulnerable nature of the water soluble ground and the relatively thick paint layer in relation to an extremely open weave canvas. The edges however remain extremely vulnerable. The most severe damage to the surface of the image has been cause by water damage along the bottom edge. This area and other losses have been filled and retouched. The fairly extensive retouching that has been carried out in many instances no longer matches the surrounding paint. Visible also on the surface are residues of ingrained surface dirt.

Elisabeth Reissner
September 2000