The adventurous life of artist Erwin Bowien, his escape across Germany in the 1940s, his constant travels, and the spreading of his work all over the world have not been conducive to the condition or survival of many of his works. Numerous oil paintings, pastels, and other paper works are still in great need of restoration. Since recent advances both in the restoration of oil paintings and in works on paper have been remarkable, we present the restoration of a major work of the early years here. The work was lovingly restored by Olga von Gregory from Solingen.
The painting "The Enzenross Family on a Lake Constance Steamer" (1930) shows a family of five that was close friends with Erwin Bowien. At the centre of the painting is the youngest daughter, surrounded by her two older sisters and their mother. The father and son, looking into the distance, form a counterpoint in the background.
With its impressive dimensions of 136 cm x 200.8 cm, the painting is a good example of Bowien's large-format paintings. Erwin Bowien used classic techniques to pain in oil on a lightly primed canvas. The paint was applied in several layers and the brushwork is clearly visible. Prominent areas, such as the faces of the people, were applied with differentiated strokes. The background and the border areas were painted more sketchily. Bowien did not apply the varnish that was customary for such works in his day. Before the conservation and restoration work began, the painting was in a rather poor state of preservation. The canvas had been very weakly stretched and showed strong bumps and waves. It was only attached to the stretcher with tacks. This was probably the result of having been transported many times. The canvas may have even been detached from the stretcher and transported rolled up at some point in the past. The paint has peeled off and is lost in countless places. In addition, unfavourable climatic conditions may have contributed to the damage. The aim of the conservation and restoration was to restore the painting to a stable and presentable state. The canvas was first treated extensively. It was removed from the stretcher and attached to a temporary tenter frame. In a so-called “climate tent,” the relative air humidity was gently increased to 90%, making the canvas more flexible. The canvas was then dried between acid-free blotting paper and weighted down. The canvas could then be stretched back onto the original stretcher.
This was followed by further measures such as cleaning the surface and additional measures such as patching larger defects and retouching the numerous damaged areas. The retouching was carried out with light-resistant gouache paints (Horadam from H. Schmincke & Co.). The work was rounded off by the selection of a new decorative frame. Previously, the visual impact of the work had been characterized by the dents in the canvas and the missing spots in the painting. Now the viewer can once again concentrate on the colourful, atmospheric subject.
Proper framing with the appropriate material, here with rust-free TemArt spring plates and an acid-free backer board, contributes to the preventive conservation and will decelerate further ageing of the work. Finally, it was recommended that the painting not be exposed to direct sunlight or be hanged over radiators and, if possible, placed on an interior wall.
Olga v. Gregory, Solingen