A Trompe-l'œil is an art technique intended to trick the eye by creating an optical illusion of three-dimensional objects and space on a two-dimensional surface.
The two artworks, from the collections of the Art Gallery of South Australia, depict finely detailed hand coloured lithographs of game birds. Each bird was shaped around padding to create a three-dimensional effect and the paper edges of the wings were finely cut to represent individual feather barbs. Great effort was taken to create these realistic illustrations. The birds, displayed against a matte black background, further accentuated the optical illusion.
The artworks were housed in their original mats and frames. The frames were weakened in structure, with ornament loss and flaking while the original mats were inherently acidic, displaying characteristic discolouration and foxing.
The lithographs were in good condition with only minor foxing mostly evident in the non-coloured areas. The prints and the padded blocks were adhered to the black flocked backing paper which in turn, was fully adhered to an auxiliary board. Therefore, the focus of conservation was on in situ cleaning, and improvements in housing.
Debris and dust were distributed throughout the black background due to the failure of the frame seals. The flocking was also shedding so gentle suction was used with larger particulates removed with tweezers or soft brush.
The frames were reinforced with corner brackets while lost ornament was rebuilt and flaking outer edges were consolidated. The frames also required a build up to accommodate additional support boards.
Once the works were cleaned, they were re-matted and re-housed in their original frames in preparation for display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Lithograph 1 after de-framing – before treatment.
Unknown Trompe l’oeil of dead partridge 1850-70, Germany or France? collage of hand coloured lithograph on paper, nail, string, pasted down on paper 41.5 x 51.5 cm (image). Gift of Peggy Barker in memory of Aileen Barker 2020 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide photo: Saul Steed 20202G45.
Lithograph 2 after de-framing – before treatment.
Unknown Trompe l’oeil of dead partridge mid 19th century, Germany or France? collage of hand coloured lithograph on paper, nail, string, pasted down on paper 41.5 x 31.5 cm (image) Gift of Peggy Barker in memory of Aileen Barker 2020 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide photo: Saul Steed 20202G44.
Aquila Evill, Senior Paper Conservator dry cleaning the black background and flocking with soft brush gentle suction.
Removal of larger particles with tweezers.
Above and below - detail of the composition after dry cleaning and re-matting showing the level of details in the feathers accurately cut to resemble real ones.
Aquila displaying the two Trompe-l’œil after treatment and re-framing, in preparation for display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.