St Luke Drawing The Virgin And Child c.1440-1475, by the Workshop of Dieric Bouts the Elder (c.1415-1475)

Following an export bar, this outstanding painting, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, was acquired in July 2016 with support from Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of private donors, totalling £2,290,650.  The painting is of major importance due to its connection with the artist, deemed one of the leading and most influential Netherlandish painters of his time. Dieric Bouts the Elder is in fact considered, together with Hans Memling, the most important follower of Rogier van der Weyden.

Bouts’ works are rare in general and especially in the UK. In addition, there are no other paintings of this date and origin depicting this important subject in British public collections by Bouts or any other northern European artist of this period.

The Bowes Museum is embarking on an innovative partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, each with their own excellent Old Master collections, to deliver a diverse and exciting activity programme surrounding the painting. 

From Panel to Canvas: Transfer of Panel Paintings

The procedure of transfer was first developed in Italy in the early 18th century. It soon became popular in other countries, like France, and was especially practiced in the second half of the 19th century.

This measure was used to prevent the deterioration of a painting caused by an unstable support. Wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity and temperature, causing the panel to warp or split and crack. In addition, woodworm can weaken the wooden support boring a series of interlacing tunnels below the surface.

The transfer of a painting from its original wooden support to canvas or a new panel is a risky and complicated procedure. For this reason, it has been now widely replaced by modern methods of conservation that keeps as much of the original as possible.

The transfer process consists of pasting smooth sheets of paper or tissue over the painted surface and applying over that several layers of fine cotton fabric. After that, with the panel placed face down and fixed to a table, the wood is planed and chiselled down until it becomes a thin layer. This is then scraped off with a sharp tool, like a scalpel.

The ground of the painting was often removed by solvents or by scraping it, until nothing remains but a thin skin of paint layer pasted over with paper and held together by the fabric. In the case of the Bouts the gesso ground was left which has saved the underdrawing. A prepared (sized and primed) canvas is then adhered to the back of the paint layer, and when the glue had dried, the fabris and paper are removed by careful damping with water.

Other methods developed in the 19th century included employing a chemical procedure  to remove  the ground layer by dissolving it with fumes of nitrous oxide, allowing the paint to detach  intact from the panel.

Related Events

Gallery Talk

7 September, 2.15

Gallery Talk Join Assistant Curator of Fine Art, Bernadette Petti to explore the recent acquisition St. Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child by the workshop of Dieric Bouts, now on display in the Museum's picture galleries.



Related Video

The Bowes Museum has produced a film with the support of the National Gallery's Conservation team exploring the scientific analysis that were used to examine the painting.