Imagine trying to work on the reverse of a fragile sheet of glass while looking in a mirror. That’s exactly what conservator Janet Hearne had to do for Framing memory, an exhibition of reverse-painted glass-framed photographs at the Australian War Memorial.
The Memorial holds the largest-known collection in the world of rare and fragile reverse-painted glass framed portraits, and this exhibition is the first time 13 of them have been on display together. A fourteenth portrait is on display in the First World War Galleries.
Before they could be exhibited, they were sent to the Memorial’s painted surfaces lab for conservation.
“They are really interesting objects to work on,” Hearne said.
“I hadn’t worked on anything like this before, and what’s interesting about the reverse glass portraits is the way you have to work on them.
“Because they are painted on the reverse, you need to be looking at the front of the glass while you are working with the paint from the back.
“This involved setting up a mirrored work area, essentially a glass topped table with a mirror placed beneath so you can see what’s actually happening with the treatment as it progresses.
“The glass components ranged in condition, some were in very good condition, but others showed signs of deterioration, for example flaking and detachment of the paint from the glass creating visible air pockets and in some cases loss of original paint.”
Some of the objects also had masking tape and other paper components attached to the back that were affecting the front.