Fine Art Restoration/Peeling Mural on Wood Preservation
I recently purchased a salvage piece from an old building in St. Augustine. The mural is on 4 wooden planks, the gesso is exposed and the painting in curling and peeling. I am not looking for a complete restoration or perfection. I only wish to adhere the peeling and curling paint and maybe apply a sealant to cover the piece to prevent further damage.
The dealer that the piece was purchased from recommended that I apply a layer of honey toned varnish the the entire piece, but I do not think the will readhere the curling and peeling paint?
Any product suggestions would be appreciated...
I actually just returned from vacation in Florida, thus the delay in my answer.
I'm a conservator, not an art historian, but it looks to me that what you have may be an old (~ > 100 yr. old) religious painting of possible high historic significance. Can you find out more about the provenance of the painting? What building was it from? I think that it's worth doing more research before you do any intervention on the piece. If it turns out that it dates to the Spanish colonization of Florida, both the monetary and historic value will be immense. Try contacting art museums in Florida and speaking with a curator.
As for stabilization, this is not a DIY project. It's good that you didn't take the 'advice' of the dealer, because that will lead to destruction of the mural. If you used a proprietary 'varnish', like polyurethane to coat the surface, that is stronger than the paint and gesso and will eventually pull it off the panel. Modern linseed oil alkyd and polyurethane varnishes are engineered to cross-link chemically, which means that they are nearly impossible to remove without ruining the original paints beneath. I deal all the time with 'advice' from appraisers and dealers that is outdated and dangerous because it's not based on actual knowledge, research, and the science of artworks. Contrary to what a lot of antique dealers and appraisers may think, there is no magic 'preservative' coating that can be simply applied to paintings or other surfaces.
Proper stabilization of this painting requires first laying down the flaking edges with a stable, reversible adhesive. Then the losses would be refilled with a stable gesso formulation. After that, the losses could be in-painted, if desired, to compensate, or just toned in with a neutral color. Then the surfaces can be carefully cleaned and coated with a stable, reversible lacquer-type varnish, such as an acrylic or other re-soluble coating.
This work should be done by an experienced professional paintings conservator, and there are some in Florida. The work will be expensive, but that's why I suggest you have it professionally identified and appraised before you do anything to preserve it. That way you can decide if you want to proceed, or sell or donate it somewhere where it will be preserved properly. You can find a conservator in your area by using the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) Conservator Referral system. Only Professional Associates and Fellows are listed, which means they go through a peer review system and have experience and training requirements before they can be listed. The website is: www.conservation-us.org. You can search by location and specialty. The site also has good information on what conservation is and how to work with a conservator, and what to expect.
Good luck and feel free to contact me with further questions.