One of the most frequent problems encountered in relation to Goya’s drawings in the Museo del Prado is the presence of old mounts that damage the stability of the paper, resulting in buckling and yellowing, or which prevent a complete view of the sheet.
In this case, a backing sheet stuck to The Street (ca.1800-1808) had concealed the existence of another drawing, which was only rediscovered when the work was reassessed as part of the creation of a new website exclusively dedicated to Goya and located within the Museum’s official website.
The drawing was separated from this old backing, revealing an ink seal, creases to the paper and remains of adhesives. It also revealed a red chalk drawing of Juan de Villanueva’s recently built Royal Astronomical Observatory, located in the Retiro Park. As a result of this restoration project, the Museo del Prado has gained a new drawing by Goya.
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Due to a conservation problem, possibly of a biological nature, that occurred in the 1960s two zones of the chalk lines in this drawing were damaged, resulting in disturbing effects of light that prevented a correct reading of the composition. In addition, old mounts that had been attached with inappropriate adhesives had created tensions in the paper that produced excessive buckling.
For all these reasons, and with the aiming of recuperating the drawing’s correct visual sense, restorers filled in these lost areas in a reversible manner, using watercolour applied with a very fine brush and with the help of a microscope. In order to do so, reference was made to a photograph of the drawing before it was damaged. In addition, old backings and adhesives on the reverse have been removed.
Of the approximately fifty red chalk drawings that Goya produced in preparation for his print series the Caprichos and which are now in the Prado, it was probably in the late nineteenth century and with the aim of protecting them that fourteen of them were coated with a layer of starch. This coating yellowed over time and above all due to prolonged exposure to light. In some cases this made it difficult to distinguish the red lines of the chalk and thus prevented a clear reading of the image.
In addition, the paper had suffered from being in an excessively dry atmosphere while on the reverse of the sheets there were numerous traces of adhesive left over from successive changes of mounts and which had produced considerable buckling. This inadequate state of conservation motivated the Museum’s decision to restore the drawings. In order to remove the starch layers, restorers used moisture and capillary action so that the drawings did not have to be immersed in water. The remains of adhesives were also removed from the backs of the sheets and the paper has been re-hydrated in order to recover its lost flexibility.