Emma Gaggiotti Richards was an Italian painter who lived from 1825 to 1912. During her lifetime, she painted for royalty, for women’s rights activists, for patrons across Italy, and for herself. The painting featured in the short film above is a self-portrait, meticulously restored with skill and attention by Julian Baumgartner of Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration, the oldest conservation studio in Chicago.

It was beautifully filmed by Jack Brandtman, who writes of the process:

“Every action is informed by years of knowledge and practice. Not only do you have to know how to fix things, you have to know how to fix things when they go wrong… you can run the risk of removing too many faults and making the painting look too ‘new’. There is a balance in the mix and I’m sure they rely on their years of practice”

Below, here’s another example of how Baumgartner mends damaged art:

For a conservator a blank area where once there was an image is pretty daunting. This painting suffered some extreme paint loss including almost all of this poor little bird. By the grace of the gods of art the client had a small photo with the painting in the background that provided just enough information to reconstruct the bird. This time lapse probably covers about an hour of retouching but to be honest, I lose track of time when everything is going well.

And here are more details via their Instagram:

There are many ways to mend a torn canvas. You can patch it from the back you can line it to a new piece of canvas or in this case you can use a technique called bridging to locally strengthen and stabilize the tear. My client did not want a lining and though this tear is large enough that a lining would have been an appropriate solution I chose to use the bridging technique to respect his wishes. Strands of Belgian linen are laid perpendicularly across the tear and secured with reversible conservation adhesive. Once dry the adhesive is flexible yet strong enough to hold the tear down and keep it from opening up. The missing pigment will be filled in and retouched with conservation paints that are archival and fully reversible. . #artrestoration #artconservation #restoration #conservation #art #fineart #painting #canvas #oilpaint #chicago #paintingconservation #arthistory #paintingrestoration #bfar

A post shared by Julian Baumgartner (@baumgartnerrestoration) on

Sometime people ask me if it ever gets old… nope, never. Making tests like this is not only neat as it reveals the true painting but also informative. It’s hard to tell but what’s happening is that the top layer of yellowed varnish is first being softened and then removed and then a layer of soot is being penetrated and the original varnish is being softened allowing the soot to come off too. Usually paintings aren’t revarnished atop soot and grime but in this case someone never bothered to clean the painting first. This will affect how I approach the cleaning process; it will require three stages; one to remove the top varnish, one to remove the grime and soot and one more to remove the bottom varnish. . #artrestoration #artconservation #restoration #conservation #art #fineart #painting #canvas #oilpaint #chicago #paintingconservation #arthistory #paintingrestoration #bfar

A post shared by Julian Baumgartner (@baumgartnerrestoration) on

Watch more restoration and repair videos on this site: The Art and Science of Conservation at the Freer Gallery of Art, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle Restoration at MSI Chicago, Repairing a Meissen Lion at National Museums Scotland, and Kintsugi & kintsukuroi: The art of pottery mending with gold.

Bonus: The meticulous work that goes into running MoMA.

See more videos about...