This painting by W.A. Reaser (1860 – 1942) had been near a fireplace for some time and it suffered from prolonged smoke exposure and even slight burn damage. The paint surface was also heavily contaminated with smoke, tar, and nicotine; and craquelures, tiny ridge-like abrasions in the paint surface, had formed due to a lack of moisture.
To improve stability we re-lined with Belgian linen and then tented to hydrate the canvas. Tenting rejuvenated the painting, but it also had the advantage of adding pliability to the craquelures which made them easier to consolidate. Deep cleaning removed the surface contaminates of smoke, tar, and nicotine. The painting was re-stretched onto the stretcher bar and then, along the craquelures, the areas were consolidated and in-painted. More in-painting was done to the areas of heat damage. Through the reverse, gesso was added to prevent the paint from causing the canvas to deteriorate. Conservation varnish was applied to finish.
The period Louis XV frame had lost decorative moldings, was very dry, and some of the existing portions needed consolidation. The frame’s gold leaf finish was also very dirty from fireplace soot.
The frame was carefully cleaned and given a back-up to add strength. Existing portions were consolidated with glue adhered underneath and in-between. To repair the ornamentation we created composition and formed to a mold. These pieces were fitted into place, fine-tuning with cutting and sanding. Final surface touches were made applying gesso, clays, and gilding to match the rest of the frame.
Born on Christmas Day, 1860 at Hicksville, Ohio, Reaser began studying art at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco. From there he continued his training in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1888-89, where hundreds of his fellow Americans congregated for instruction. His teachers were Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and Benjamin Constant.
Already in 1890, Reaser was exhibiting at the Paris Salon (Portrait of Mrs. R., and Bath Attendant) and in 1893 he contributed Girl Reading and a pastel entitled Mother and Child. After returning home, Reaser won gold and silver medals at the California Exposition in 1894 then the First Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Design in 1897.
He continued to submit figure painting to other national exhibitions (to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1897 and the Pennsylvania Academy, 1898 and 1900). His Portrait of Senator W.B. Allison hangs in the U.S. Senate lobby, and he is known to have painted murals in private homes. The Carnegie Museum of Art has his Mother and Daughter and the Iowa State Historical Society has some of his works. In addition, the Des Moines Art Center has Old Man and Sleeping Child.
Reaser was most active exhibiting at the Carnegie Institute (1897-1912). He developed an astonishingly free broken-color technique in pastel, shown in Seaweed Gatherers, Italy, probably from around 1910. The entire picture surface is enlivened by juxtaposed strokes of pastel, while the artist limited his selection of colors to sky blue, ultramarine, viridian, and violet. Reaser died on December 9, 1942 in Minneapolis.
Clark, Edna, Ohio Art and Artists. Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1932, p. 486.