PAPER SPLITTING: HISTORY AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY
IRENE BR▄CKLE, & JANA DAMBROGIO
6 6. DETECTING PREVIOUS SPLITTING TREATMENTS
Whether a sheet of paper was split in the past may not always be immediately apparent—especially if it was split to separate recto and verso, if the treatment was done flawlessly, if information on the original characteristics of the paper is not available, or if an untreated artifact of similar makeup is not available for comparison. Even in cases where splitting was done clumsily and signs of past manipulation are noticeable, the paper's appearance might still lead to puzzling questions, as the following example illustrates.
A drawing by Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) on Rives BFK paper arrived at the laboratory of Swiss conservator Florence Darbre Gubbins. It was lined with a Western paper and showed an odd band of discoloration on the front (fig. 35) (Darbre Gubbins 1999). In transmitted light, the paper revealed severe uneven skinning, the thinnest area of which corresponded to the area of discoloration on the front (fig. 36). The surface of the drawing showed residual adhesive accretions and a slight, unnatural cloth pattern. From these phenomena, Darbre Gubbins concluded that the paper had been crudely split in order to separate it from another design on the verso—a likelihood given that Giacometti is known to have worked on both sides of a sheet of paper. Darbre Gubbins removed the mounting by peeling part of the backing paper off while the print was lightly dampened, then wetting the paper and peeling off the remaining backing paper while the wet print rested on top of a black glass plate. She evened out the skinned paper areas by applying a large complex pulp fill to the sheet verso, using a dropper while working on a suction table and checking the fill over a light box. The aqueous treatment was also successful in removing the discoloration and improving the paper surface texture.
Alberto Giacometti. IntÚrieur avec figure, 1959, graphite on Rives BFK paper, 60 x 42 cm. Normal light view before treatment. The front of the skinned paper is stained locally from the lining adhesive applied to the verso. Courtesy of private owner
Alberto Giacometti, IntÚrieur avec figure. Transmitted light view of split and lined paper, showing severe skinning. Courtesy of private owner
The splitting of this drawing—which has had the good fortune of now being expertly conserved—brings to mind Morgana's cautionary thoughts about paper splitting: “The procedure seems to be very easy to do, but in reality some problems might occur from carelessness” (Morgana  1994, 89). The treatment of the Giacometti drawing is, thanks to its careful description by Florence Darbre Gubbins, an instructive case study. It might inspire a closer reading of the older literature on paper splitting with attention to those procedural details that might cause changes in the appearance of treated papers. They may not always be immediately explainable and may not even be very obvious:
The original surface of paper that was split may show:
- fragments of the facing support material (paper, fabric, polyamide adhesive, celluloid)
- residual adhesive from the surface coating (animal glue, paste, polyamide adhesive)
- flatness of design and paper texture if high pressure was applied during splitting.
Paper that was split in order to permanently separate recto and verso may show:
- lack of a design on the reverse of an artifact where such would be expected
- lack of felt- or wire-side texture on the reverse of a paper
- presence of a (thick) lining on the reverse of an artifact that shows none of the damages that usually require a lining (long tears, paper weakness)
- noticeable thinness of the paper sheet (also in lined condition)
- uneven paper thickness or skinning, especially along edges.
Paper that was split to strengthen it by insertion of a core paper may show:
- deterioration of the paper due to impure core materials (adhesive and core materials such as silk might be acidic)
- stiffness, if the core materials were applied heavy-handedly and/or the facing adhesive was removed incompletely
- local areas of delamination where the core adhesive failed
- misalignment of the split and reunited paper halves
- cockling due to uneven core adhesive and/or tissue application
- transparentized paper areas due to excessive pressure applied during treatment.