Map of treatment
Examination of the painting takes place before conservation treatment commences. In this process all available information about the condition and manufacture of the painting is recorded and assessed. It usually involves a number of imaging techniques such as x-radiography and infrared reflectography which provide additional information not detectable by the naked eye. Examination is a step which is ongoing throughout the conservation treatment.
The painting is photographed many times throughout the conservation treatment: Before treatment, after varnish removal, after re-varnishing, during retouching and after completion of the treatment, and several times in between those stages. Additionally, it is photographed in many other ways: under UV light and under raking light. Photography is considered one of the fundamental forms of documenting an artwork.
Throughout the year the Crossing of the Red Sea will undergo scientific analysis. Microscopic paint samples will be examined to learn more about the materials Poussin used for this painting. In particular we will analyse his pigments and binding materials. This part of the project will be carried out with CSIRO Australia.
Throughout this treatment we will learn more about how Poussin painted this picture: how he planned, what stages he had to go through to get the final result, and what revisions he made along the way.
The cleaning of the Crossing of the Red Sea will involve the removal of old varnish and retouchings left by previous restorers. This will take place in two or three stages once the preliminary examination is completed.
Retouching, also called inpainting, will be the most time-consuming part of the Poussin conservation project. This is done only on areas of the painting which are lost or worn. Although the painting is in acceptable condition for its age, it has nonetheless suffered some surface wear and tear which needs to be addressed.
The painting will be given new layers of varnish at varied stages of the treatment. The first – applied with a brush – will take place after the old varnish and retouchings are removed. Further selective brush applications may be needed at later stages, depending on how well the varnish covers the paint. The last will be done by spray gun after the retouching is complete.
Because technical examinations often uncover new information, conservation treatments are often perfect opportunities for research into the painting. This can cover broad areas of historical, scientific or technical investigation relating to the artist or the painting.
When the conservation of the painting is complete the painting will return to display on the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and will be reunited with its frame, which is considered a masterpiece of French eighteenth-century decorative art.