Sword of Damocles Conservation-Restoration Project
This project was undertaken in collaboration with The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
The 1804 neo-classical oil painting L’épée of Damocles (Sword of Damocles) by Antoine Dubost was gifted to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai, in 1921, as part of the Ratan Tata Collection.
Around the year 2000, 25 paintings were selected for conservation-restoration under the guidance of four eminent personalities, namely Dr. Kalpana Desai (former Director-General, CSMVS), Abraham Joel (Fine Arts Conservation Inc. or FACI, New York), Dr. Richard Spear (Art Historian), and Dilip Ranade (Retd. Sr. Curator, CSMVS). In the opinion of Dr. Spear, among the selected works, Sword of Damocles, which he attributed to Dubost, was key.
Phase I of the conservation-restoration began:
Barbara Bertieri and Elizabetha Cori, Conservators, FACI, who visited under the Kress Foundation Grant, and the MACC team worked on the preliminary stages of conservation.
Phase II of the conservation-restoration began in 2011:
CSMVS MACC, under Director-General Sabyasachi Mukherjee and The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, under Director Deborah Swallow collaborated for to continue working on the Sword of Damocles. The objective of this collaboration was to mutually develop a ‘good practice model’ and broaden the scope of this relationship to include other spheres such as conservation education and research.
In consultation with Paul Ackroyd (Sr. Paintings Conservator, National Gallery, UK); Anupam Sah (Chief Conservator-Consultant, CSMVS MACC) and Dr. Aviva Burnstock (Head of the Department of Conservation & Technology, The Courtauld Institute of Art) began interim examination and technical analysis. Trevor Cumine, Oil Paintings lining Specialist, and graduates of The Courtauld Institute Mark Coombs, Harriet Pierson, Clio Nisse, Kristina Mandy, Pearl O’Sullivan, Alysia Sawicka, Sarah Freeman, along with the MACC team were on board the project.
The conservation team worked very conscientiously and implemented various procedures that included the removal of the earlier gelatine and tissue facing that was covering the painting, strengthening of the brittle paint and ground layers with successive applications of consolidants, partial removal of varnish layers and past retouching, temporary levelling of paint and ground losses, facing of painting to accord temporary protection to the paint surface allowing for safe removal of the old lining. After tears were mended, losses filled, and temporary facing removed, the painting was lined using a non-aqueous Beva adhesive in a vacuum envelope and the painting was mounted on a stretcher and chromatically integrated. Final retouching and work on the frame continued through 2014. Finally, Sword of Damocles was framed and displayed in 2015 in the Dorab Tata Gallery, CSMVS, Mumbai