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by John Bendall

Sir John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896)
Hearts are Trumps (1872)

Millais468*358.jpg

Hearts are Trumps: Portraits of Elizabeth, Diana, and Mary, Daughters of Walter Armstrong, Esq.

Presented to the Tate Gallery by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest, 1945

Prior to display at Tate Britain, John Millais's Hearts are Trumps underwent major painting and frame conservation. Since its acquisition in 1945, the aesthetic condition of the painting has suffered owing to discoloured natural resin varnish layers which flattened the composition and distorted the colours radically. Like J.M.W. Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Millais's paintings have a reputation among conservators for being difficult to clean, due in part to the way the artist layered and mixed resin in with his oil media.

Extensive analysis was required to find the best method to remove the varnish. Trepidation at the start of treatment led to more extensive testing and analysis than usual, much of it carried out under a stereo-microscope. Minute samples of paint were taken by Joyce Townsend (Conservation Science) to study the layering structure of the painting, and UV fluorescence was used to distinguish between varnish, wax and paint layers. As anticipated the numerous tests found sensitive black, brown and green pigments. It took several weeks to find an appropriate method of removing the varnish while protecting the original paint surface. The painstaking treatment carried out by Natasha Duff (Paintings Conservation) took five months to complete and has resulted in returning the image to an appearance closer to when it was painted in 1872. See the excellent Tate Britain web site - from which the foregoing is quoted - for a more detailed account of the process of conservation.

My grateful thanks are due to Jim for drawing my attention to this picture.

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