A substantial project recently carried out by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam focused on the restoration of five Neo-Plastic compositions painted by Piet Mondrian in Paris between 1920 and 1931.
In preparation, the painting conservators conducted extensive research into the artist’s ideas, the materials he used and his way of working. Based on existing literature, the artist’s own letters, archival photos and interviews with Mondrian specialists, the restorers were able to reconstruct the history of these paintings.
Mondrian’s painting technique was subject to intense examination by microscope, X-ray and ultraviolet and infrared light. Non-invasive X-ray analysis established the type of pigments Mondrian had used. It was also important to determine the means of previous restorations and how much they may have altered the works’ original appearance.
Analysis showed that all the paintings were in need of restoration. One required surface cleaning, another varnish removal. Earlier restoration work needed to be corrected in the remaining paintings: in adding new linings using canvas and a mixture of wax and resin, the original edges had been badly damaged and were subsequently overpainted. Moreover, upon completion of prior restorations the canvases had not been stretched on their stretchers in the way Mondrian intended. And in some cases, the frames were removed or adjusted.
The purpose of the entire project was to restore the works to reflect Mondrian’s original vision. This also entailed restoring the frames of the paintings. The artist himself had determined the frames’ shape, color and corner joints, and executed their construction and painting.
The paintings and frames are fragile and vulnerable to dust and climactic fluctuations, particularly because of the cadmium-based paints Mondrian used. Because of this, the works must now be exhibited in protective showcases. The conservators worked with outside specialists to develop a new type of glass showcase with transparent sides, thus avoiding obtrusive wooden edges.