- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 940 x 1752 mm
- Purchased 1997
Technique and condition
The painting was executed on a single piece of medium weight cotton duck canvas which is attached to a seven-membered expandable pine stretcher with ferrous tacks along the sides and back at intervals of approximately 100 mm. The stretched face of the canvas was then primed with several layers of acrylic gesso primer, probably by brush in horizontal strokes. The resulting priming layer is reasonably thick, particularly at the turnover edge, which hides much of the canvas weave texture.
The oil paint was applied directly over this. Although the palette is polychrome, much of the painting consists of greys and white. The oil paint in the textured areas (mainly the two heads) also contains a granular material, which has the appearance of sand. Much of the paint appears to have been vehicular in consistency and leanly bound, and the incorporation of sand would have given the paint a very stiff and paste-like quality. The background is painted exclusively by brush in bold horizontal brushstrokes, with much of it applied using a wet-in-wet technique and a fairly broad brush. The paint used for the two heads was laid down mainly by brush too, but with possibly also the occasional use of a palette knife. In a few areas on the right face a brush handle has been used to scrape through the paint back to the ground layers. Much of this paint appears to have been used straight from the tube with very little thinning evident, although excess medium (or perhaps turpentine) has stained the back of the cotton canvas in the areas beneath the two heads. The paint is predominantly opaque and matt, although there is some variation in surface gloss.
The painting is not varnished. The frame consists of four battens painted purple and screwed directly to the outer edges of the stretcher bars. On acquisition the painting appeared in a reasonable condition apart from a number of minor dents in its surface and the presence of some white splash marks in the lower right and centre parts of painting, whose identity has not been determined but has the appearance of bird droppings. The painting has recently been treated to remove the planar deformations and the most disfiguring areas of the white splash marks. A minor amount of in-painting was also required in an area of one of the dents where the paint and ground layers had been abraded. Despite these minor damages the canvas still exhibits excellent structural rigidity and is providing good support for the paint layers. Although the lean nature of the paint makes it rather prone to marking, especially from fingers, a strict handling policy should keep it in an exhibitable condition for the foreseeable future.
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