JAIC 1977, Volume 17, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 01 to 08)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1977, Volume 17, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 01 to 08)


Bettina Jessell


The following is an attempt to put into words how Helmut Ruhemann achieved the subtlety which made him a master of inpainting, and which he tried to communicate to his pupils. He taught that not only must the restorer have much knowledge of the methods and devices used by the painter to achieve his effects, but that the restorer must during the whole of the inpainting process be intently conscious of the painter's artistic intention, and alert to his sensitivity, in order not to lower the quality of the painting.

To be capable of that, it is necessary to do a good deal of research on every painting, and to look at as many other paintings by the same painter and of the same school as possible or at least at reproductions. It is therefore highly desirable to have access to a photographic library, or failing that, the restorer can build up such a library by indexing periodicals and books in his or her possession.

All inpainting is a process of selection, and one never can or should repair every minutest damage. It follows that the restorer has to choose which losses have to be most conscientiously dealt with to bring back the orderliness and quality of the painting.

The following are some examples of painters' devices which are found frequently in the works of the old masters. They are based on a sensitive observation of nature, and the restorer must keep them in mind while inpainting in order to convey the painter's intention which is lost because of damage or wear or unsuitable old overpaint.

13.1 Landscapes

To give a feeling of depth, the painting tends to have a dark foreground, a colorful middle ground, and a light cool distance. If there are losses interrupting this structure, as for example, some in a distant plane but near the outline of an object in a near plane, they must be most meticulously inpainted. Dark dots in a passage of sky near the outline of a tree rooted in the fore or middleground will prevent the tree from looking near and the sky from looking far away, and thus ruin the impression of distance so important in a landscape.

Skies are thinly painted for luminosity, and in horizontal brushstrokes for distance. Losses in skies are most disturbing because they interfere with the feeling of distance.

Skies shade from darker on top to lighter towards the horizon, and the horizon is the lightest part of the painting, unless obscured by clouds.

Clouds are 3-dimensional forms, bright towards the source of light, shadowed on the other side.

Distant objects are hazier than near ones.

13.2 Seascapes

Seascapes are mainly structured like landscapes: dark foreground, colorful middleground, cool light distance.

Near objects have sharp reflections in the water, distant reflections are more hazy. In still water, reflections exactly follow the shape of the object.

Missing rigging of ships in the foreground make them look hazy and therefore distant, and must be replaced.

13.3 The Human Figure

Painters of quality observe a rhythm of contrasting warm and cool tones in skin tones. Shadows and middle tones are warm, transitions and highlights are cool.

There is a light reflection under the chin and often along the edge of the shadowed cheek.

When painting the hair, a simple form with light and shade takes precedence over accidental single strands.

All outlines are a little hazy, especially the pupils and irises of the eyes, to avoid a staring look.

13.4 Still-Lifes

All losses in the background must be meticulously inpainted, to allow the background to recede and the objects to come forward.

Hard, inanimate objects are given sharper outline and sharper highlights than living things. Cloth is always a little fuzzy, to avoid having it look metallic.

As a general rule, there can be no highlight without an equivalent shadow.

Copyright � 1977 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works