http://www.kunsthaus.ch/en/the-collection/conservation/examples-from-the-world-of-art-conservation/?redirect_url=title%3Dcontact

Kunsthaus Zürich

Egon Schiele

Painting restoration
Schiele’s 1912 painting ‘Die tote Stadt’ (‘The Dead City’) had been subjected to an extensive restoration before it arrived at the Kunsthaus in 1964. However the treatment, using a wax-resin compound and an additional layer of varnish, caused the canvas’s characteristic surface structure to be lost. Close examination reveals significant muddying and darkening of the colours. The work is now to undergo an expert restoration to remove the later layers and, as far as possible, return it to its original condition.

Procedure
Preliminary tests using a micro-aspiration device yielded highly promising results. This method allows the softened wax compound to be removed from the recesses in the rear structure of the canvas using controlled and targeted suction. Old, noticeable areas of retouching and flaws in the paint layer are to be structurally improved and recoloured.
But why was this early restoration actually deemed necessary?

One canvas – two paintings?
Beneath the painting is a second image which shows through in places. Having rejected the initial work, Egon Schiele painted over it out of financial necessity. In all likelihood, the accumulation of layers of paint caused the paint layer to loosen, leading to numerous instances of paint loss. This explains the earlier restoration of the work.

New findings will contribute to scholarship
The restoration is also of interest to Schiele scholars, as the painting will undergo X-ray analysis to reveal the rejected motif. This may be a work that features in lists of Schiele’s paintings but can no longer be located.

The first Schiele in a museum
‘Die Tote Stadt VI’ (‘The Dead City VI’, 1912) is a significant example of the famous Expressionist’s work for a number of reasons. It was the first of his canvases to be owned by a museum – the Folkwang Museum in Hagen, which acquired it in the year it was painted.
It also represents a high point in the series of views of Český Krumlov. Few places inspired Schiele as much as the Czech town, in which his mother was born and which was to become the most important subject for his landscapes. The painting shows the view looking down from the castle hill to the backs of the buildings on the square, dominated by the bare rear wall of the pharmacist’s house. But Schiele does not entirely depict the scene as it actually appears: he also freely inserts abstract areas of colour. The blue strip to the left of the picture suggests the course of the Vltava river, while the black background stands in for further houses.

Supported by the Minerva Art Foundation.

Fig. 1
Egon Schiele, ‘Tote Stadt VI’ (‘Die kleine Stadt I’), 1912, 80 cm x 80 cm, Kunsthaus Zürich
Fig. 1
Egon Schiele, ‘Tote Stadt VI’ (‘Die kleine Stadt I’), 1912, 80 cm x 80 cm, Kunsthaus Zürich
Fig. 2
Detail: the plant-like structures of the rejected painting can be made out.
Fig. 2
Detail: the plant-like structures of the rejected painting can be made out.
Fig. 3
Detail: beige-coloured wax compound on the canvas (marked by red arrows). Area from the top of the chimney on the large white house.
Fig. 3
Detail: beige-coloured wax compound on the canvas (marked by red arrows). Area from the top of the chimney on the large white house.
Fig. 4
Detail of the rear of the canvas: owing to the thick wax compound, the structure of the canvas can no longer be discerned.
Fig. 4
Detail of the rear of the canvas: owing to the thick wax compound, the structure of the canvas can no longer be discerned.