Year-End Special: The art doctors
Intach Conservation Institute—Bangalore (ICI Bangalore)
Expertise: Tanjore and Mysore paintings
One of their most significant projects is the ongoing conservation of 300-year-old paintings on the ceiling of Devasiriya Mandapam, or the thousand-pillared hall, in the Arulmigu Thiyagaraja Swamy Temple, located 60km from Thanjavur. Though the centre (established in 1993) works on a diverse range of artworks, its speciality is the restoration of Tanjore and Mysore paintings. “We have worked on hundreds of these paintings. A set of Mysore or Tanjore paintings might look similar, but years of experience help us differentiate between the two,” says ICI Bangalore director Madhu Rani K.P.
What the centre does: “We examine the works, and use various tools, even a microscope, to get a detailed study. This helps us understand whether deterioration happened due to the environment or age,” explains Madhu Rani. In case there is loss of some element or colour, she might not use the exact same materials, but recreate, if needed, the colour in a way that harmonizes with the rest of the painting.
When to call: In case of discoloration, cracks in paint surface, loss of colour or precious stones and gold leaf.
Expertise: Oils on canvas
A couple of years ago, Pandole was asked by a client to restore a double-sided painting by A.A. Raiba. “Artists in those days didn’t have a lot of money, so Raiba must have discarded a painting on the front and created a new work on the other side. The client liked the discarded version better than the final work. So I ended up restoring both sides,” says Pandole. At another time, one client came to her with a damaged S.H. Raza painting, which had been pierced by a dart by his son’s friend, who had mistaken the work with concentric circles for a dartboard.
What she does: In case the tear is small, Pandole employs local treatments using adhesive and a patch to support the work. “Sometimes, one needs to give a full lining to big canvases, or a strip lining if the edges of the canvas are weak. However, for paintings which are merely 30-40 years old, one can do simple cleaning to take off the dust without disturbing the layers,” she says.
When to call: Humidity causes fungal growth in oil paintings. If you notice pale or dark patches on the painting, or observe cracks or tears, it’s time to call Pandole.
In October 2004, S. Girikumar and his team were asked to work on 100 historic photographs from the collection of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad. The team had to restore the images on a shoestring budget, to coincide with the opening of the palace, post restoration, in 2005. Girikumar has also worked (on projects) for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, and The City Palace Museum, Udaipur.
What he does: The first step is to identify the processes. Some processes may look similar, but the treatment suitable for one could cause irreparable damage to the other. For example, under certain conditions, an early gelatin print can be treated with water or an organic solvent, but the moment a collodion print comes in contact with any of these agents, the image layer will crumble or dissolve.
When to call: Watch out for discoloration, staining, cracks, fungal attack and the curling up and sticking of photographs.
Dharohar art conservation
Expertise: Miniature paintings, artefacts and sculptures
Whether it is a damaged watercolour work by M.V. Dhurandhar , a Raja Ravi Varma oleograph, museum objects from Jnana-Pravaha, Varanasi, or artefacts from The Imperial, New Delhi, Madhavi and Venkat Singh have worked on a host of collections. Lucknow-based, they adhere to the international ethics of conservation, specializing in sculptures, artefacts and miniatures. They have also conducted an art conservation assessment of 496 miniatures for a private collection in Mumbai.
What they do: They don’t just help restore artworks, they also offer preservation consultancy and short-term practical training on how to take care of objects. One can also reach out to them for authentication of artefacts.
When to call: “For miniature paintings, one should watch out for discoloration, insect holes, flaking of paint and fungus,” says Madhavi. For sculpture, call them if there are cracks and alien deposits.