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At over 3.5 metres high and nearly three metres wide, Anthony van Dyck’s Equestrian Portrait of Charles 1 of about 1637–8 is one of our giants. Acquired by the Gallery in 1885 from 8th Duke of Marlborough, the painting’s a real showstopper; an impressive expression of Charles’s fatal belief in the divine right of kings.
The relining project was part of a long-standing plan to clean and reline the painting. Conservation of the painting’s structure, and original canvas may not be as sensational as the ‘before and after’ transformation of cleaning but is equally as important in preserving the painting . Traditionally, an additional layer of canvas was added to the back of oil paintings as a way of protecting and strengthening the canvas. Over time the lining materials, the lining canvas and the adhesive, deteriorate and these need to be periodically replaced.
Enter Paul Ackroyd, National Gallery Conservator, and the participants in the Getty Foundation’s Conserving Canvas Initiative. This Getty initiative focuses specifically on preserving the skill involved in relining paintings on canvas and aims to promote the expertise among conservators worldwide.
As Paul, points out, ‘The challenge for the future of structural conservation of canvas paintings is the lack of people who currently have the skills and experience – this is certainly true in many museums in the world but also in private practice.’