On 29 June 2012, Andrew Shannon entered the National Gallery of Ireland and punched a hole through a Monet painting from 1874, valued at nearly $12 million. While Shannon was recently sentenced to 5 years in prison, the painstaking process of restoring the prized artwork took an arduous 18 months to complete.
The painting, entitled ‘Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat’ (1874), was first removed from the exhibition space and laid flat and stabilised from the front and back. The painting was carefully removed from the frame.
[Securing the Paint Layer] Repair work to the damaged canvas was carried out on the back of the painting. Before turning the painted side down onto the cushioned working surface, a temporary tissue cover was applied to protect the vulnerable paint surface. This temporarily strengthens the painting, is safely removable and poses no risk to the paint or priming layers beneath. [source]
[Tear Repair] The process of tear repair involved flattening, aligning and rejoining the edges of the torn canvas. With the aid of a high-powered microscope and small tools, the tear edges were carefully aligned thread-by-thread. [source]
[Removing the protective facing] Once the tears had been rejoined, it was possible to return the painting to a face-up position. At this point the protective facing tissue and adhesive could be removed from the paint surface using a small amount of moisture. [source]
[Lining the painting] In some cases, it is possible to treat a damaged canvas using the technique of tear repair alone. In the case of this work, however, the damage was so extensive that further support was required by adhering material support to the reverse of the original canvas. A finely woven linen canvas was used as the primary lining material. Non-directional synthetic material was inserted as a cushioning interlayer and thermoplastic adhesive film was used to adhere the materials. [source]
[Restretching the canvas] After the lining process was complete, the now fully stabilised painting was returned to its stretcher and tacked on using the original tacks wherever possible. [source]
[Returning paint fragments] Over 100 loose paint fragments splintered away from the painting as a result of the damage. These were collected and stored until they could be reinserted after the painting was lined and returned to its stretcher. These pieces were very small, the majority of which measured between 0.3-1mm. However some of the pieces had fragmented into a powdery dust and therefore could not be reinserted into the area of repaired damage. [source]
[Filling and retouching] Tiny areas of paint loss (where fragments could not be reinserted) were filled with a reversible material made from chalk and a low percentage solution of animal gelatine glue. This material termed gesso, was pigmented to match the colour of the original priming layer. The final stage of treatment involved localised application of watercolour to the areas of exposed fill. This technique is termed retouching and is distinguishable from the original paint as a darker material under ultraviolet light. [source]
As of 1 July 2014, ‘Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat’ is proudly back on display at the National Gallery of Ireland. Conservation of the painting was carried out by Simone Mancini, Head of Conservation; Ele von Monschaw, Paintings Conservator, and Pearl O’Sullivan, Claude Monet Paintings Conservation Fellow. For more information visit the National Gallery of Ireland.