Touch Wood – Rescuing Rare Panel Paintings

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

An international expert on the conservation of panel paintings has led a groundbreaking workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum, where participants rolled up their sleeves to restore some of Finland’s national treasures

Workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Wood Panel Workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Arne Rannaoja and Jean-Albert Glatigny repair the upper section of Madonna and Child Enthroned. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen


In the vaulted White Cellar in the basement of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, a dozen or so conservators – many from museums across Finland, and including Tannar Ruuben, the paintings conservation lecturer at the city’s Metropolia University of Applied Sciences – are gathered around a table, peering at the back of a 17th-century wood panel painting. The table is specially made for the highly sensitive work of restoring and conserving rare works of art painted on wood. The clamping table, as it is known, has been constructed by Jean-Albert Glatigny, Conservator at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, who is considered to be the world expert on restoring wood panel paintings. He is here to lead a 10-day practical workshop sharing his expertise in the structural stabilisation of these works with a new generation of conservators, passing on his knowledge in this highly skilled field. The clamping table he has brought with him from Brussels is used to glue splits in the panels and to repair joints with a high degree of precision. Tannar Ruuben was so impressed by it that he decided to buy it for his conservation department.

The workshop has come about as a result of the Getty Panel Painting Initiative, an ongoing project that aims to increase specialised training in the structural conservation of panel paintings and to advance the treatment of these works in collections around the world. The project was brought to the attention of Kirsi Eskelinen, the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s Director, when in 2010 she met Prof. Jorgen Wadum, keeper of conservation and director of the Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation (CATS) at Denmark’s National Gallery, who was involved in the Getty initiative. At that time Eskelinen was head of collections at the Serlachius Museum in Mänttä and had been seeking guidance on the repair of the 16th-century panel attributed to the studio of the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys, Madonna with Cherries which, she says, ‘was actually in two pieces’. Wadum visited Mänttä to advise on how best to proceed with its restoration and, says Eskelinen, ‘he asked us if we need this kind of specialist knowledge throughout Finland’.

Five years on, and in her new position at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Eskelinen’s response remains unequivocal. ‘I want to generate more co-operation in the field of research and care of the Old Masters collections across Finland. As a museum specialising in this area the Finnish National Gallery is keen to develop and share its expertise.’

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See the video of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum workshop by clicking on the link below