Finding Hovey 02: Portrait
The most distracting part of the Hovey Portrait was the result of poor restoration work completed sometime in its past. Twelve holes were shabbily patched by adhering new pieces of canvas to the back of the portrait using non-archival adhesive. The largest of these makeshift patches was about 6” around and was located directly to the left of Hovey’s face. Conservators expertly removed the poorly executed fills, and the repairs were redone, this time properly. Archival grade materials were used, and the experts who performed them made the damage almost invisible.
Aging varnish obscured Hovey’s visage and concealed details in the painting. The discolored varnish was carefully removed by conservators. The result is an overall brightening of the surface; parts of the painting are visible after treatment that previously could hardly be seen, such as the writing on the document in his hand.
While the painting has revealed new details, many questions remain. Project team members hoped that the conservation of the piece would reveal the identity of the portrait’s artist. We still don’t know if this was a personally commissioned piece or one created to commemorate Hovey’s time as the University’s president. Though cleaning the portrait helped reveal many nuanced details of the painting, we still cannot decipher the language on the paper held in Hovey’s right hand. However, this leads us to believe the paper is an artistic choice and not meant to include intentional content. Though questions remain, the restored portrait gives us new clues to explore in our continuing research.
The frame is original to the painting, so efforts were made to conserve it as well. The frame had chips and losses in the gesso decoration, and there were losses in the gold guilding. At some point, the gold had been given a “facelift” with imitation gold—this may have looked impressive at the time. Still, with age, the false gold had oxidized and made the frame look dirty and unkempt. During treatment, flaking paint was consolidated, and areas of loss were inpainted. The oxidized false gold on the frame was removed, losses in the gesso were filled, and the frame was repainted in gold where necessary.
The canvas had become slack on its stretcher, which can result in warping the canvas and cracking the paint over time. To prevent this, conservators lined the canvas with BEVA 371, a conservation grade adhesive film that provides stability to the aged cloth, and it was restretched over its original frame. An archival backing board was added to the verso of the canvas when it was reframed to protect the portrait from future dirt and damage. None of these measures can be readily seen by the viewer, but they are necessary for the longevity and protection of the artwork.
Anderson-Zorn, April K., "Finding Hovey 02: Portrait" (2022). Finding Hovey. 3.