© 2015 Thomas. All rights reserved.




Jean-Baptiste or James

One day a client brought this painting in for restoration.

The “Portrait of a Young Lady Being Kissed by a Bird”, oil on canvas, 53.2 x 38.5 cm
The damage was a small hole in the shoulder of the young woman and a precarious bulge at the bottom of the canvas.

The client agreed on a light surface clean, the closing of the hole and the relaxing of canvas deformation.

To gain access to the work, the paper that was stuck to the reverse side of the stretcher and all around the painting’s margins, had to be removed.

The bottom section of the painting was taken off its stretcher, the accumulated dust, pine needles and an old piece of wooden stretcher key, which was the reason for the bulging canvas, were vacuumed off.

3 IVANA BEHIND 1854_edited-1
After relaxing the deformed canvas, the painting was re-stretched .

Closing the hole required:
– Relaxing the torn canvas fibres
– Alignment and mending
– Filling of lost ground and paint structure

The surface dirt, which consisted of the usual nicotine and water-soluble grime, was easily removed with a mild aqueous solvent. The background and the dress showed unusual behaviour – slight blanching.
With all the surface dirt taken off, the original, but unevenly applied and yellowed varnish, which disfigured predominantly the Lady’s skin, had become very prominent. Removing this varnish required a mild aromatic solvent, but when it came close to the blue dress, the blue dissolved.

Now the restoration became complex.

The layer underneath the blue of the dress was of a far better quality, beautiful, intense and most of importantly – stabile. I removed the over-paint and what came to the fall was a radiant Azurite Blue. 

2146 burgundy emerging



Cleaning closer to the brown background – the brown paint layer also dissolved and a rich Burgundy Red emerged.





This was when I stopped and called in the client.

I explained that not only the dress but the background too was a later addition and hence not original. The signature, which sat on top of the brown paint layer in the background conclusively could not be original.

Uv tests and research on the artists signature confirmed this.

The client objected to my findings and was of the opinion that I had destroyed her painting. I was asked to bring the work back to what she considered to be the “mystery and essence” of the painting.

To her “the golden hue”
To me – surface dirt, yellowed non original varnish and dull over paint.

The paying client is who we have to please and when one is faced by a certain degree of inexperience and persistence, there is little one can do, but obey. I left the blue dress and the Lady’s décolleté as I had uncovered it. Only minor blemishes, that were the original reason of the initial and entire over-painting action, were retouched. Unfortunately I had to close the Burgundy Red in the background up again.



Regarding a signature’s authenticity it has to be said, that while a signature is rarely sufficient for authenticating a painting, a forged signature does not necessarily mean that a painting is a forgery. The reason that many signatures were added to authentic paintings is because perhaps the owner felt it would be easier to sell, or because a signature would add prestige. From time to time we bump into this situation; the painting is authentic, but the signature is not.


Jean-Baptiste’s original signature

Signature fake 4247_edited-2

The signature on this painting

The question around this work’s authenticity could not be fully solved.
It might just be an unfinished and unsigned sketch, overpainted and “strengthened” by some enthusiast, but nevertheless an Original.

Owners rarely want to discover that his or her artwork’s authenticity is questionable. It will dispute its value on both, a monetary and an emotional level.

The question remains “Jean-Baptiste” or “James”