What does ‘lining’ an oil painting mean and when is it needed?

What is ‘lining’?

Amongst the many interesting queries we receive from clients, there is one that attracts much curiosity; what does ‘lining a painting’ mean?

For many people eager to learn more about art conservation, lining understandably is a subject of much interest.  When conservators discuss lining a painting, they are referencing the addition of a second canvas to a weakened original, to provide reinforcement and stability to an artwork.

The practice of lining was very common in the past, and was also widely known as ‘re-lining’. Contemporary conservators now take a different approach, and intervene by lining only when it is wholly necessary.

Why is lining needed?

When the structural integrity of an artwork is compromised, the most appropriate course of action to be taken can be by lining the painting.

The most common causes of lining includes tears and deterioration of the original canvas.

Tears and damage

If an artwork is severely torn or a large hole is made, conservators will assess what the most suitable method for a seamless repair will be. For small tears, a thread-by-thread repair will be sufficient and provide full stabilisation. In other cases where the tear or damage covers a large proportion of the painting, lining may be the most appropriate option. This will fully restore the structure stability that the painting has been lacking by providing comprehensive support.

In the photographs below, the painting has a large tear that has been previously poorly repaired and had large patches placed over the back. It is lacking the necessary support and structure an artwork of its size requires.

Canvas Deterioration

Many artworks of a certain age will suffer from some deterioration of the original canvas in their lifetime. This may be due to accidental damage, mistreatment or the ageing effects of the canvas and materials that have been used.

This deterioration may take the form of abraded canvas where the painting has lost its required margins to allow it to be properly stretched over its stretcher bars. If this continues, there is a risk that parts of the painting will begin to be lost as the canvas is abraded and the paint layer is lifted. The key details around the edges of the margins, such as an artist’s signature and date, are most susceptible. Sometimes a canvas’ margin can be mostly intact, except for a couple of areas where missing material has protruded into the painting.

Lining can ensure that the painting is reinforced and ‘saved’ in its current condition. This will prevent further losses and ensure that the painting can be properly stretched, and therefore stabilised, again.

Replacement of Inappropriate Materials

Occasionally we receive paintings into the studio where misguided intentions and amateur restoration have marred an artwork. Previous poor tear repairs, where the canvas has not been properly flattened and re-aligned but instead hastily patched up and painted over, can cause the surface to be bumpy and raised. In instances such as this for large tears, it is possible that lining would have been the preferred option for conservators had they restored the painting originally.

Similarly, we have also witnessed paintings that have been ‘lined’ in a way, on to an inappropriate backing and so need to be removed and properly restored.

One painting we recently restored provides an excellent example of why lining became necessary.

Mr Stoddart’s painting had deteriorated margins, areas of missing canvas, tears and holes, and had been previously amateurishly ‘lined’ onto a bedsheet (in the image above).

After removing the painting from the bedsheet, it was evident it was quite a fragile painting requiring more structural stability. Through lining, the painting was suitable reinforced and protected against further damage. The areas where canvas was previously missing could now be filled and retouched to match in with the rest of the painting. You can read our detailed Case Study on this restoration here.

Overall, lining on this occasion was necessary when considering the painting’s condition. It was the best course of action to take to ensure that the painting could be stabilised and conserved for the future.

It is important to assess each painting we receive in the studio independently, taking into account key factors such as the painting’s age, history and condition to determine whether lining is required.

As with every restoration, recommended treatments are tailored and subscribed to each painting after a considered process. We’ll only ever do what is necessary to ensure the longevity and enjoyment of your artwork.

If you have a painting you would like our team to take a look at, contact us for our no-obligation recommendations and advice.

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