February 2012

Rose Miller, paintings conservation student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, is undertaking her third year project on J.S. Cotman and has been working with the NMAS conservation department and fine art collections at the Castle Museum.

Cotman has long been noted and celebrated for his watercolours, but his oils have been studied less. Rose is using technical examinations such as sampling, x-radiography and infra red imaging to study his paintings, including many from our collection. Her work is adding to our knowledge of the collections, and is also helping to prioritise conservation treatment. This is making an important contribution to the Colman Galleries redisplay project.

Cotman’s methods of paint application during his second Norwich period, which encompasses his most mentally disturbed time, produced the most disfiguring drying problems in his paintings. The most visually disturbing of these are wide and extensive cracks known as ‘drying cracks’. These have often been subsequently disguised by over paint, and the resulting loss of clarity obscures the true quality of a number of his oils from this period.

Image 16
Microphotograph showing example of drying cracks on
“Lincolnshire Draining Mill”

Although painted on board rather than paper, similarities found between our undated Boat House and Trees, and Tate’s Duncombe Park, c.1806-8, would suggest the two are contemporary. The ground of both consists of lead white and Mars red, giving a pinkish tone in the sky that is used to subtle effect in stippled paintwork in the trees. The skies show a common use of an unusual form of Prussian blue (possibly Antwerp blue). The use of board and simplicity of layer structure support a date within his first Norwich period.

Image 17
“Duncombe Park”, c.1806-8, oil on paper (now mounted on canvas), Tate Britain. Possibly contemporary to “Boat House and Trees” below.

Image 19

Image 18







Boat House and Trees (left before treatment and right after treatment)

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