Restauration de tableaux anciens - Version française
Fine art restoration studio "L'Accro des Toiles" - Christelle Chazeau and Alain Montoir

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Christelle Chazeau and Alain Montoir,
qualified restorers of paintings

Interview with Catherine Auguste for the site

There are the two of you working in your restoration workshop in Chateaurenard. Does that have to do with your respective capabilities ?
At first, we had the same training, therefore equivalent capabilities. We are both able to work on a painting from the first to the last step, from giving an estimate to establishing a work plan, down to even the slightest preservation and restoration operations and up to the final, protective varnishing of the work.

But by working together, we realized that Alain naturally devoted himself more easily to the operations having to do with a painting's preservation, meaning for example, the remounting, which requires more physical work (removing the canvas from its stretcher, fitting it to a temporary frame, sizing, retightening it over, perhaps, a new stretcher, even making the new stretcher) or even treating the wood (treatment against xylophages in the stretcher and panel on the one hand, straightening of a warped panel by inlays of pieces of wood for example or even parquetry, on the other).

For more “peaceable", more sensitive restoration procedures, it is also just as natural that Christelle would apply herself to those. A reduction in the layers of the old varnish, the filling in of the lacunas in the pictorial coats and touching up with varnishing pigments will then be her responsibility.

This dual competence somehow signifies that there are variable levels of operation in the restoration of painted works? I'm thinking of the concepts of restoration, preservation or prevention. Can you enlighten us a little on these notions?
As it happens, there are several levels of operation in the restoration of painted works that can be broken down like this:

Preservation, which has as its objective:
- at the very least, the stabilization of the work's condition, general cleaning and elimination of the causes of its deterioration
- at the most, protecting it against the harmful and destructive factors in its surroundings.

Restoration, which has as its objective the presentation of the work in the most favorable state for viewing the picture and the closest to its original state.

Prevention, which has as its objective the foreseeing of possible problems that a painting could suffer before they even appear. That could mean an anti-xylophage treatment of a panel or stretcher not yet infected but kept in a place where the problem exists. Or even, if during an inspection of the steadfastness of the pictorial coat on its medium we notice weaknesses, then we carry out a preventive re-fixing. It also happens that we have to reinforce a canvas that is too delicate or deteriorated in order to avoid any tears at the slightest tautening of the canvas.

These different procedures can thus be independent and we can in some cases just work on prevention, in other cases we can stop at preservation, to keep a certain patina on the work, letting it show its signs of age, leaving it in its "juices" as the antique dealers say. Only restoration requires a minimum of preservation…

Restoration has not always been carried out in the same manner since painting exists. What is today's professional code of ethics?
The code of ethics concerning the restoration of paintings follows 3 main principles :

Compatibility of the materials used, meaning that what we put in should not change the nature of that which is there.

Reversion: all the operations carried out must be able to be removed without provoking new deteriorations.

Viewability; Giving viewability to a work does not mean that we have to disguise the fact that the painting has undergone any restoration; on the contrary, touching up should show from close up but should blend in when seen from a certain distance.

Our work consists in giving a painting back its original aspect while seeing to it that our intervention is the most discreet and minimalist possible with a view of total respect for the work and the artist. The restorer is not a creator but a technician in art medicine.

Have you ever encountered irremediable errors in previous restoration of works that have been entrusted to you?
Restorers in times past were very often painters who disguised the lacunas in an abusive manner or even sometimes reinterpreted the painting…
So, often we have to clear away the unsuitably repainted parts, the over-paint and overflowing filler. The sizings they used were not revertible, but all of that is not error but rather lack of knowledge… Since then the materials have changed; they are more suitable and restorers are well-trained, but it's a relatively recent profession and we are confronted with age-old beliefs like one can clean a painting using a potato or lemon, and that it's enough to glue on a rubber patch to repair a tear. Even if it is more difficult to restore a painting that has already been retouched than a painting unsullied by any other operations, it is practically still always possible to do something. Only burns and cleaning that used unsuitable and too aggressive solvents are a source of irremediable damage. If the damaged surface is large then we cannot reconstitute that which is missing, so we will apply a core tint because we absolutely must have some indications, close elements to what's missing to be able to fill it in.

The profession of restorer calls for precise technical capabilities. What about knowledge of art history, of aesthetics… ?
During the 4 years of studies, 2 hours of art history class per week were lavished on us. Of course that's little taking into account this field's vast range. Nonetheless, we acquired the basics and developed our eye. We have continued instructing ourselves by regularly consulting art reviews. So, faced with a painting, we can recognize a period, a school…,or even sometimes a painter's technique.

We are not experts but thanks to research materials amassed during our careers and books at our disposal, we can make some discoveries, uncover the names of painters whose signature is incomplete or attribute works to a painter like this painting almost entirely repainted found at an antique market, which once cleaned of its over-paint and restored had an altogether remarkable technique (example of a restoration). In checking an art review, Alain stopped short at a reproduction of a painting by Ary Scheffer, 19th century French School, and made the connection with the restored painting. Everything agrees, the illustration, the style and above all the technique. His perception has been confirmed by a museum curator from the PACA region.

For all the reasons we have touched upon, doesn't one become a restorer specializing in a pictorial period or a genre?
We have no predilection for a precise genre or period. We restore with the same care and the same enthusiasm all paintings on wood, canvas, copperplate or paper, dating just as well from the beginning of the 20th century as the icons from the 15th century, and including the decorative paintings of the 18th century.

© 2012 - L'accro des toiles - Alain Montoir & Christelle Chazeau - All rights reserved