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To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, the Musée d’Orsay has begun the restoration of a number of the works in its collections that were not put on display in the museum galleries when it opened in 1986. These restorations are part of its policy on the preventive conservation of the artworks, one of the museum’s fundamental missions.
This is the case of several large and medium sized Academic paintings in particular, which will be on view to the public once again while they undergo restoration or when they are hung in the renovated galleries in 2018.

Restoration of Louis Baader’s "Remorse" (1875)



Louis Baader Remorse (before restoration) © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
This work illustrates an episode in Greek mythology involving Orestes, the son of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. A few years after the king was assassinated by his wife and her lover, Aegisthus, Orestes decided to avenge his father by killing the couple.
The gods, horrified by his matricide, immediately sent the Erinyes - goddesses of vengeance - to torment him.
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This large painting on a mythological subject was exhibited at the 1875 Salon, and was later bought from the artist by the State for the Musée de Dôle.
It was allocated to the future Musée d’Orsay in 1981 in preparation for the opening in 1986, but due to the significant degradation over the course of time, it was unable to be displayed in the museum galleries.
The restoration of Baader’s Remorse has brought this painting, one of the gems of Academic art from the Third Republic, and never exhibited in Paris since 1875, back on to public display.

This intervention was carried out in two phases between November 2015 and February 2016, beginning with the restoration of the support (frame and canvas) followed by the restoration of the paint layer. The tears in the canvas have been repaired, and the distortions corrected. Removing the oxidised, irregular varnish layer has re-established the original colours and brightness of the painting.

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Remorse during restoration

Aims


The restoration of Baader’s Remorse de Baader had two main objectives:
- to consolidate the sensitive areas at risk
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- to re-establish the readability of the painting (regaining the depth of colour, eliminating superficial damage, filling in missing parts).

A protocol for the restoration was drawn up for these specific stages:
- general removal of dirt
- removal and levelling of the varnish layer
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- restoring the aesthetic quality of the painting.






A study of the artwork


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Detail of Remorse by Louis Baader © Alix Laveau
Before taking any action, the restoration team undertakes a study of the artwork, the materials used and the artist’s technique.
The support is a linen canvas on a stretcher dating from the previous restoration in 1981. The painting is in oil on a white preparatory coating.

Baader painted an initial fluid layer, then laid on thicker paint when rendering figures or landscape. His brushwork was vigorous, following the forms.
These animated subjects contrast with the background areas, which have a flatter treatment - a technique that emphasises the drama of the scene.
The varying thickness of the paint determines the brilliance of the colour, as the richness of the lighter skin tones demonstrates in particular.

Tear © Alix Laveau
Once he had finished his painting, Baader rapidly applied a layer of varnish using a broad brush, not worrying about its uneven application or runs, as revealed on the canvas under UV light. This varnish has now deteriorated and discoloured.
The artist later returned to the red flag covering the body of Aegisthus. These final red glazes are particularly sensitive and visible under the ultraviolet light.
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The blue of the central figure has also deteriorated. The varnish has microfractures and has weakened the structure of the paint.

The study of the painting enables a report to be drawn up detailing the damage it has suffered over time – surface damage such as rips and tears, scratches, splits, splashes, runs and even marks left by sponging.

Interventions on the artwork


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Before and after the removal of the varnish layer © Alix Laveau
The restorers also work on the back of the painting. These interventions on the support of the paint layer aim to consolidate and safeguard the canvas by:
- correcting distortions
- treating previous restorations
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- repairing tears and splits

Before deciding on the best restoration technique for the paint layer, tests are carried out for removing the dirt and varnish.
Next, the suggested protocol is approved by the conservators, and the restoration of the visible surface of the painting can begin.

After the general cleaning, removal and levelling of the varnish layer, the work to improve the aesthetic quality can begin.
Invisible repairs are carried out on tears, while other smaller damaged areas are touched up with paint.

 

This initiative is supported by a restoration fund sponsored by Crédit Agricole Ile de France, Great Patron of the Musée d'Orsay.

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