Technical Examination of a work by Julian Trevelyan

Maureen Cross

Julian Trevelyan was a British painter and etcher best known for his early surrealist work of the late 1930s. Never afraid to experiment with artistic genres, subject matter, and materials, he often pared scenes down to their bare essentials using a minimal palette. Woman in a Courtyard (1933) is a prime example of his unconventional technique.  Using both oil and household paints, he painted in prussian blue, synthetic ultramarine, vermilion and earth colours, shifting the hue and tone of his paint with black and white.


detail of material
Cross  Section of Paint Layers


detail of material
Detail showing Graphite


detail of paint
Detail showing Sawdust


He created complex and interesting textures by adding wood chips and sawdust to his paint and by scratching lines into the wet surface with a sharp pencil.  He worked and re-worked the composition, leaving the pentimenti of previous forms visible. 

Mary Fedden, the artist’s widow, gifted the work to Tate after finding it in his studio, damp, and folded in thirds. Due to the extensive damage and paint loss, it was considered a candidate for the study collection.  The work was resurrected after a precarious treatment complicated by the variation of material sensitivity and surface topography.  A complex arrangement of aqueous, and dry materials were used to surface clean the painting.  An equally complex combination of fill and inpainting media were employed to recreate the variations in surface gloss and texture. A full technical examination of the work was carried out which aided and enabled the treatment decision-making process. 

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