October 29, 2022 | Last updated May 2, 2023

Fit for a King

Not every piece that comes into the Ford Center gets treated right away.  Sometimes there is a backlog that builds up if a lot of work comes in to the labs, but sometimes objects are brought in to be assessed for later treatment.  For instance, a museum may bring in a work of art to get a proposal and use the estimate to fundraise for the cost of treatment.  It is a great opportunity for museums to share information about the importance of caring for their collections.


two painted portraits of men with facial hair, medals, blue sashes. Canvases on easels, before treatment

Portraits of Christian IX (right) and Frederik VIII (left) of Denmark, Before Treatment


Once such example were a pair of paintings brought in by the Museum of Danish America.  The portraits are of King Christian IX (1818 – 1906) of Denmark and his son King Frederik VIII (1843 – 1912).  The portrait of Frederick VIII is attributed to Danish painter Otto Bache and was likely painted in 1909.  The paintings originally hung at Amelienburg Palace and were passed on to members of the royal family and were eventually donated to the Museum of Danish America in 2017.

The paintings were in stable and well-preserved condition, but in need of restretching, cleaning, and a few minor repairs and inpainting.  The museum chose to treat the portrait of Frederik VIII and use it as an example to raise the funds needed to treat the portrait of Christian IX.


painted portrait of man with mustache, yellow varnish partially removed, during treatment

Portrait of Frederik VIII, During Treatment.  Note the old, yellowing varnish on the left side of the shirt.


Following before treatment photography, the insecure paint on a raised bump on the canvas was consolidated and the bump was corrected with humidity and weight.  New keys were added to the stretcher and the painting was stretched to its appropriate tension.  Stretching corrected for any buckling of the canvas.  The discolored varnish was removed with appropriate solvents and a new varnish was applied to reveal the original saturated colors of the portrait.  Small areas of loss were retouched as needed and the painting was returned to its frame.


man removes varnish with cotton swab from section of portrait of man

Kenneth Bé, Head of Paintings Conservation, removes the varnish from the portrait.


If you are interested in learning more about this treatment and see the paintings in person, Kenneth Bé, paintings conservator at the Ford Center, will be giving a talk at the Museum of Danish American on Thursday, November 14, at noon.


portrait painting of man with mustache, before treatment     portrait painting of man with mustache, after treatment

Portrait of Frederik VIII, Before (left) and After (right) Treatment

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