A STUDY OF FRENCH PAINTING CANVASES
Katrina VANDERLIP CARBONNEL
1.1 SELECTING THE SAMPLES
THE COLLECTION OF SAMPLES used in this study is actually composed of canvas fragments selected from two different sources (see list). In both cases, the cloth samples from the original support of authenticated paintings were chosen to be identified and analyzed. The samples were made up of an eclectic group of canvases from Dutch, English, French, Italian and Spanish paintings. The largest category by far was the French.
The first is a group of fabric samples including both lining and original painting canvases gathered since the 1950s by the Service de la Restauration des Peintures des Musées Nationaux (France). I studied all of those samples that could be traced back to an authentic painting. However, the number of non-French samples did not prove large enough to give an adequate idea of the individual country's use of painting canvases. The non-French samples were, therefore, put aside until other canvas fragments can be studied and added to them to form a body for analysis at least the size of the collection used in this article, which is made of canvases from paintings by 116 different French artists.
The second set of samples I put together from fragments given to me by private painting restorers working in Paris.
1.2 ORIGINS OF THE SAMPLES
THE COLLECTION CAN ALSO be divided into three categories according to the method by which the samples were drawn:
- From cut tacking margins, taken from relined paintings;
- From transferred pictures;
- From the edges of restretched paintings.
- About 80% of the samples in this survey come from cut tacking margins. The French use a wheat paste lining technique that consolidates as well as lines the painting. However, the edges of a freshly wheat paste lined picture are too stiff to be safely turned over a stretcher. For this reason, the original tacking margins are cut off before the lining process and the paste-free lining canvas border is then used as a tacking margin and wrapped over the stretcher.
- Approximately 19% of the canvas fragments came from the original cloth support removed during the transfer operation. The practice of transferring paintings to a new support, although now rarely done in France, was unfortunately quite frequently done previously. Generally, the transferred canvases were paintings executed before the nineteenth century. However, many impressionist paintings were transferred halfway through the lining process because the fine linen canvas reacted adversely to the moisture.
- Only a small number of this study's samples were saved from fragments torn from the edges of restretched pictures.
Part I of this study will briefly describe the method of preparing the samples and how they were identified. Part II will deal with the physical characteristics of the samples studied: fiber type, weave pattern, the weight of the fabrics per square meter, and the thread count. Part III will attempt to describe in general terms the types of canvases used by French artists in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, showing that hemp canvases were the most common type of canvas used up to the first quarter of the 19th century, at which time linen fabrics took the lead, and that the disappearance of the use of hemp canvases coincides exactly with the decline in the production of hemp in France which began ca. 1820.
Part IV will describe my conclusions.