This month, we take you behind the scenes with Sofia Hennen, paintings conservator and art historian, who recently restored the work titled Tavern Interior by Pieter Pietersz from our collection.

Sofie at work in her studio © Sofia Hennen

“The conservation-restoration treatment of Tavern Interior by Pieter Pietersz, dated from the second half of the sixteenth century, was trusted to me in May last year as my first project with The Phoebus Foundation. This beautiful oil painting on canvas immediately impressed me with its refined artistic technique. However, its condition also instantly startled me.”

“From the beginning, I noticed the painting was full of problems. Only after removing the varnish and overpainting did the real image emerge. The oxidized varnish and the altered past retouching concealed an excessively worn original paint layer that had endured harsh incidents over the past five centuries. Inadequate conservation conditions and past inappropriate restoration treatments, such as aggressive cleanings, invasive linings, old overpainting, etc., are some of the interventions worth mentioning.”

“Thus, the retouching of the painting after the cleaning was quite tricky and needed progressive and critical decision-making processes. As the painting showed generalized abrasion, it was necessary to bring retouching solutions that could conceal the damages in an “illusionist way” while respecting its material history. In other words, I had to subtly reintegrate the damaged image by imitating at the same time the abrasion and maintain this approach constantly. Keeping a homogenous and coherent aspect with the same quality of retouching all over the composition was difficult. Deciding when to stop was also challenging, as you could easily overdo it and keep retouching forever.”

During the cleaning © Sofia Hennen
Before retouching © Sofia Hennen

“To conclude, this has been one of the most challenging treatments I have ever done, so I can only be proud of the result. I am already excited for future Phoebus challenges like this one!”

After restoration