At the turn of the 20th Century, Vanity Fair magazine was famous for its witty caricatures of celebrities and notable public figures. British artist Leslie ‘Spy’ Ward (1851-1922) painted this caricature – part of the Men of the Day series; No. 1091, ‘Steam’ – depicting Frederic Abernathy Coleman (d.1931) for the 6 November, 1907 edition. Coleman was a journalist and motoring enthusiast who popularised the use of White steam cars in England.
This caricature is painted in gouache, a medium particularly sensitive to water. It had been fully adhered to a non-archival mount and backing board which had caused discolouration. There were also extensive foxing spots probably due to mould present in the framing materials.
The aim of the treatment was to improve the aesthetic appearance of the artwork by reducing staining. In order to achieve this, the artwork first had to be removed from its acidic mount and backing. This was very time consuming as the adhesive used to attach the backing and mount board was not water soluble and therefore had to be removed by hand; layer by layer.
Reducing the staining and discolouration was also complicated due to the sensitivity of gouache to water. To prevent disturbing the medium, it was covered with purpose-made barrier layers and the work was washed on suction to avoid excess water penetrating the medium. This process proved successful as the foxing spots were dramatically reduced.
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