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Deccan Herald » State » Detailed Story
Restoration: Half kilo of dust stupefies Ravi Varma’s work
By Shankar Bennur DH News Service, Mysore:
The conservation of three paintings - Syrendri, Victory of Meganath and Malabar Lady - were done by persons professionally trained in conservation.
Art enthusiasts visiting Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, one of the oldest art galleries in India, will find some ‘difference’ in the priceless paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, displayed at the gallery. The ‘difference’ may be noticed if the paintings are observed carefully.

Three paintings of the celebrated artist of the royal age have undergone ‘scientific restoration’, thanks to Mysore-based Regional Conservation Laboratory (RCL). The old glory of the paintings has been restored.

The century-old paintings were degraded due to cracking and flaking of the canvas, ‘unscientific stretching’ of the canvas and leakage of water from the roof top of the gallery onto the paintings. In fact, there was a hole in the canvas of Syrendri painting.

RCL took up the conservation project in 2003, when the gallery authorities sought their expertise in conservation.

Syrendri was the first to be restored, followed by Victory of Meganath and Malabar Lady - all taking three to six months. Since Victory of Meganath was a huge painting (200 cm x 152 cm), it took a longer time for restoration. The restored paintings have been returned to the gallery for display.

More restoration

The art gallery has a collection of 17 paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. The RCL is expected to take up restoration of 14 remaining paintings in the coming months.

“There was uneven pressure on the paintings. The quality of stretching was not scientific. All three paintings had the same problem. As one of the paintings had backing made of commercial plywood, the canvas was degraded due to release of acid from the plywood over a period of time,” explains Dr B V Kharbade, head and project officer, RCL.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, the conservation scientist said the painting of Syrendri was in bad shape compared to the other two. “Its canvas was fragile and, hence, a fresh lining of canvas was given to it, besides repairing a hole. There was at least half a kilo dust inside the painting.” The other factors for degradation were absence of protection from dust, heat and light, apart from ageing. In most paintings, the canvas was damaged and the paint layer was intact.

Nails which were used earlier to fix the canvas, were removed.

Natural adhesives used

While stating that conservation of oil paintings normally take longer time because of intricate work, Dr Kharbade said the canvas and paint layers were consolidated by applying a mixture of resins and natural adhesives.

“The new and the old canvas were ironed for the purpose of stretching. Subsequently, the canvas and paint layer were cleaned. Stretchers were specially prepared using seasoned teak wood for each painting to stretch the canvas in a scientific manner. The entire restoration was done scientifically, yielding impeccable results,” Dr Kharbade said.
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