Technique and condition

Hamilton’s The DuCane and Boehm Family Group has a support of a piece of finely woven tabby linen canvas. In either the late-nineteenth or the early-twentieth century it was lined by Morrill with animal glue onto plain linen canvas and nailed to a contemporary wooden stretcher. Examination of the painting's lower edge indicates that this was probably not the first lining, sometime during painting the original lower tacking edge was turned up to become part of the image and presumably it was held in plane by a lining, as there is no evidence of spare canvas to form a tacking edge. The old nail-holes along this edge were filled roughly before painting continued. This alteration might have been done to compensate for faulty measurement of the sight-size of the frame, which is original and very ornately carved and gilded and it would be quicker and cheaper to extend the painting by half an inch rather than dismantle and enlarge this frame. The lining has developed a slight buckle in each corner but is otherwise sound.

The oil-based priming is cool-toned, mid-grey. It is not present on the edge described above. In keeping with the predominant style of priming in the 1730s and 40s, the surface of the ground is textured with regular vertical striations, some two or three to a millimetre in width. There is a general network of age cracks but adhesion between the ground and the canvas is adequate.

After setting down the outlines of the architectural setting in dark paint or crayon, the artist appears to have laid in the basics of his composition in a sketchy fashion with a brush and a dark brown wash, which is visible with the microscope along the top edge. At an early stage of the process he made significant changes to the style of the interior decoration. The unaided eye can discern the linear outline of square-lobed, Palladian picture frames beneath the continental rococo mouldings and the central motif above the chimney piece was originally circular not oval. Again at an early stage, perhaps just after this, he began painting in a woman's figure to the right of the chimneypiece. Its shape and colour suggest that this was a false start for the woman finally seen entering from the right, although the scale of the pentimento is larger than in the final group. From here the painting appears to have progressed smoothly until the need for enlargement occurred towards its completion.

The paint is generally opaque and rather thin. It was worked up wet-in-wet with sprightly brushwork, small scale for the figures and broader in the background. An exception is the dark green curtain on the right, which appears to have been put in last with semi-translucent paint applied when the underlying composition had dried.

When the painting was acquired by Tate it had a natural resin varnish that had become yellow and patchy. This was removed in 1999 and replaced with MS2A varnish. Apart from a few very minor damages in the background the painting is in very fine condition.

Rica Jones
November 2001