SPRAYED POLY (VINYL ACETATE) HEAT SEAL ADHESIVE LINING OF PEN AND IRON GALL INK DRAWINGS ON TRACING PAPER
DRAWINGS BY THE AMERICAN PAINTER Washington Allston (1779–1843) in the collection of The Washington Allston Trust, on deposit at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, have recently undergone conservation treatment at the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Fogg Art Museum. The treatment of a group of four tracings (8.1955.151; 152; 153; 154) depicting the main figure groups in Allston's painting Jacob's Dream, 1817, (The National Trust, England), presented special problems.
These tracings were made by Allston from his original painting to preserve a record of this major work which he had left behind in England.1 The tracing paper on which the figures are outlined may have been made by the artist himself by painting thin, strong, wove paper with a homogenous oily or resinous substance to make it transparent: sesame, walnut, almond, cotton, and other oils; turpentine; alcoholic solutions of sandarac or mastic; or oily solutions of wax or resin have been mentioned in the literature as suitable for this purpose.2 The four sheets are of similar dimensions ranging from 22½ to 24½ inches by 17¾ to 17⅞ inches. All bear the same watermark, the initials CS over intertwined branches, which further suggests that they form a related group.3 Unfortunately it was not possible to identify this paper further by locating this watermark in the standard references.
These tracings appear to have been much handled, perhaps from the beginning. Traces of red sealing wax adhering to several corners, pin holes either scattered around the edges or grouped at the corners, and random streaks of pigment powder remaining on the sheets suggest that the tracings may have hung for a time on the walls of Allston's studio. When received for the treatments described in this paper, the tracings were attached by irregularly spaced gummed paper hinges and daubs of glue to either window mats or backing cardboards. Since the paper is very responsive to changes in humidity, being held under tension by the paper tabs produced draws from the corners to the center of each sheet and cockles running parallel to all inside edges of the window mat. Evidence that these works have long suffered from severe wrinkles, creases, buckles, and torn, folded and abraded edges is provided by a reproduction of the tracing, Two Groups of Angels, (8.1955.153), in this condition in a publication of 1892.4 In color all the tracings are now mostly darkish brown. Lighter areas remaining around edges previously covered by mats suggest that the paper has darkened. It has also become extremely brittle because of the oxidation of the substances used to make the paper transparent.
The outlines were traced by pen in iron gall ink. Later, they were indented with a stylus, probably when these drawings were used as the basis for engravings published in 1850.5 With time, the highly acidic ink medium has weakened the paper, and in two of the tracings, the lines have begun to disintegrate, leaving a lacework of gaps to mark their former positions.