He coaxes grandeur out of jaded paintings

Art restorer and conservator S. Madhan working on a painting ‘Indulekha’ by Raja Ravi Varma.

Art restorer and conservator S. Madhan working on a painting ‘Indulekha’ by Raja Ravi Varma.

Art restoration and conservation is a challenging and painstaking process, especially when the art work is damaged by time. S. Madhan, an art restorer based in Tamil Nadu, will vouch for it, as he has restored 21 treasured paintings — all more than a century old — of legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma. Mr. Madhan had just restored a painting ‘Parumala Thirumeni’ sketched by Ravi Varma, now kept in Kottayam.

According to Mr. Madhan, the art restoration and conservation techniques have evolved over the years. There are two schools of thoughts in the sector — ‘integral restoration’ and ‘purist restoration’. The former allows additions to art works to restore the aesthetic appeal of a work, while the latter advocates only cleaning of art works and reattaching of original pieces which many have peeled off. His 15-year stint with the late V.N. Selvarehai, former senior conservator, National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property, brought him into the world of Ravi Varma paintings.

200 paintings in all

Mr. Madhan, who has restored over 200 paintings by renowned artists, including around 45 works by K.C.S. Panicker, was recently honoured by the Kilimanoor Palace, the birthplace of Ravi Varma, for his contribution to restoring the artist’s legacy. Mr. Madhan terms the delicate art of art restoration, which promises to bring back the glory of the original painting without losing its aesthetics, a combination of science and art.

Every inch examined

An art restorer should have deep knowledge of the science of restoration and a Midas touch to reintegrate the damaged portions of the paintings. During the course of restoration, every inch of the artwork should be examined and documented. “Though I do oil and mural paintings, I will not retouch the work done by legends, only reintegrate the damaged parts. In normal cases, painting showing discolouration, blanching, moisture-induced damage, deterioration caused by biological agents like thick layer of fungus, brittleness, cracks, etc. will be restored through scientific practices.”

The biggest challenge

But the biggest challenge a art restorer faces is the botched restoration done by amateurs. “We have to get rid of the previous materials applied without touching the original pigment underneath. Whatever we do as part of restoration, like cleaning dirt and dust deposited on the work, is fully reversible now. Once restored, it would last 30-40 years if kept in good condition,” said Mr. Madhan.

A man with several accolades, like Ovia Nunkalai Kuzhu Award (Lalitkala Academy, Chennai), Young Artist award by the Ministry of Culture, ‘Kalai Sudarmani’ award of Tamil Nadu, Mr. Madhan worked with several high profile conservation projects in the country, like Central Excise collections at Goa (Antiquities); Mysore Palace (large size canvas paintings); Madurai temple (Tanjore paintings, mural paintings); Suttur Mat collections, Mysore (Metallic objects, paintings, manuscripts); conservation of mural paintings, Balussery Kotta, Kerala; Government Museum, Thiruvananthapuram; and conservation of mural paintings at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2022 3:21:35 am |