Tears, punctures and missing canvas: structural problems with paintings
If your painting has a tear, puncture, hole or areas of missing canvas, the damage can be very obvious and hard to hide.
We refer to such issues as problems with your painting’s structure – which means, on the whole, any damage to the canvas itself. Damage to a painting’s structure prevents the artwork from being fully supported in the way it should be.
Once the structure is compromised, then it could lead to escalation of non-structural issues such as lost and flaking paint or deformations in the canvas.
When a painting arrives in the studio, one of the first priorities is to check how the painting is faring structurally.
Structural work can be needed for:
- Holes and punctures
- Missing canvas
- Abraded canvas on the margins of the painting
- Distortions in the canvas caused by heavy impact
- Inappropriate materials
So what happens if a painting is structurally damaged and how can it be restored?
Depending on the structural issue, the treatment can be tailored accordingly. Take a look below at common issues that affect a painting’s canvas and what can be done to repair them…
Treatment for tears is dependent on their severity and scale. The most common process for repairing tears is thread-by-thread, where the tear is carefully drawn back together using a stitching system. This is applicable where there is perhaps one tear that has not caused any associated issues such as flaking paint.
For paintings with tears covering a large proportion of the painting, the most suitable plan might be lining.
Our conservators can complete full lining, where a new canvas is added to the back of the existing canvas to reinforce the original and provide full stability. Full lining is considered as quite a substantial intervention and will only be carried out when the painting’s structure has been severely compromised.
Alongside full lining, we also complete strip lining of paintings where canvas is added to the margins of paintings where they have been abraded. When canvas has worn away, it affects the painting’s structure as it is no longer possible to properly re-tension an artwork, and so the canvas becomes slack.
Needing to repair such structural damage can seem daunting when you have a painting, but whether it’s a large tear through the middle of the painting or a small tear to the side, it can be fully repaired with no residual traces left on the painting.
Holes, punctures and missing canvas
For paintings with holes and punctures, where there is a small area of missing canvas, the best method may be to insert a canvas inlay on the back of the painting. This is securely fixed to the original canvas, and then filler is applied to the new area of canvas and retouched. This is the least intrusive method and ensures that the painting is properly supported.
Unless the area of concern is very large, full lining will not be needed and would be considered a heavy intervention.
If there is an area of missing canvas around the edges of the painting and some of the painting’s details have been removed, strip lining may be the most appropriate method. Strip-lining is when only the edges of the canvas are lined and can comprehensively restore the structure and stability needed.
Read our helpful article on strip lining for more information.
Abraded canvas on the margins of the painting
Often the margins of a canvas are prone to damage. Rusted tacks and nails can have an effect on the margins, and the edges can become abraded due to a number of factors such as age and general wear and tear. Consequently, there is therefore not always enough material on the tacking edges to ensure the painting is well supported.
In such cases, strip lining can also be the best option to reinforce the original edges and provide stability. Because new canvas is added to the painting, it can be properly re-stretched and supported by the stretcher bars.
Distortions in the canvas caused by heavy impact
When an object comes into contact with a canvas it can cause a heavy impact blow, which quite literally knocks the canvas out of shape.
For paintings that have experienced this damage, a combination of heat, weight and moisture treatment can make a difference. This type of damage can definitely be improved and the area around it stabilised, although when canvas is pushed out of shape so significantly, it’s unlikely it will return completely to its original condition. A slight imprint may be left on the canvas once treatment is finished around the area, but it will definitely be much improved.
Sometimes we receive paintings into the studio that are very unusual, and have clearly had an interesting history! Artworks that fall into this category are ones that have been lined or attached onto non-traditional substrates. So instead of an artwork being entirely on canvas, it has instead been painted onto canvas but lined onto something else. A recent example of such inappropriate materials being used is when we received a painting that had been attached to a pillow case.
For other unique instance such as this, the treatment will vary, but the common shared step is removing the painting from the unsuitable support. The painting can then be lined onto canvas and attached to stretcher bars so it is properly supported.
The ‘pillow-case painting’ is an interesting study into various structural issues that a painting may face, including missing and abraded canvas and lining.