Technique and condition

The primary support for Still Life (1958) is linen canvas stretched over a pine stretcher. The canvas is a fine, 1 x 1, plain weave fabric with a Winsor & Newton Ltd. “Winton” stamp on the reverse face of the top tacking edge. The expandable stretcher has four members with non-mitred, mortise and tenon joints. The canvas was prepared with a layer of size, probably animal glue, and given two layer of priming. The first layer was a commercially applied, off-white oil ground. The second layer was applied by the artist to the front face only and just covers the front edges. This oil layer is thicker, with a creamy colour.

The muted shades of oil paint were applied to the front face of the canvas only. Thin washes of colour were brushed applied in superimposed layers. The brushwork is vigorous in application, softened with blending on the surface. The paint is generally semi-transparent with some spots of opaque paint. There are areas of low, textured paint and some canvas weave is apparent although the surface is generally flat. The surface has a soft, slightly patchy sheen.

The painting arrived at Tate in a well-used state. There were numerous dents, deformations and cracks from handling and storage conditions. The surface was lightly coated with grime and drip marks and debris had accumulated behind the stretcher bars. The stretcher is somewhat flimsy and provides inadequate support for the canvas. There were a few abrasions and losses on the edges of the painting and there was one old, unfilled loss on the front face, this old loss was crudely repainted, probably by the artist.

The painting was surface cleaned front and back, and removed from its stretcher. The work underwent some flattening treatments to remove the worst dents and reduce the over deformations. The original stretcher was retained and the painting was given a loose lining of polyester sailcloth. This will help stabilise the stretcher and provide an overall support for the painting. The painting was re-stretched over the loose lining and secured with staples on the reverse. The losses were filled and retouched with watercolours. While still not perfectly flat, the painting is stabilised and the soft surface sheen uncovered from beneath the grime.

Patricia Smithen
August 2003