Paper is a rather unstable base: it is prone to sun damage, which causes the base to change its colour, the fibres to fade, and the bonding adhesives to disintegrate. As a consequence of one or another influence, paper becomes brittle or crumbly. Difficulties arise when mould or iron inclusions get on the material: all sorts of stains can appear (surface or through).
For a conservator it is important to consider the technique of drawing or printmaking. Each technique affects the paper in a different way due to the composition of the binders; each paper and the technique used on it needs an individual approach to conservation, and for this purpose, preliminary studies of the object are carried out.
One technique that is difficult to restore and conserve is watercolour. The colours stabilize over time but can become fluid due to being in a humid environment for a long time.
Such a watercolour drawing was conserved at the Paper Conservation Workshop of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts: "On all fours, a petitioner...". - A caricature of the Russian judicial system. Under the image is a poem written in iron gall ink:
On all fours, a petitioner,
On him sit the scribes;
On them sits the department head
And carries the secretary himself.
The author of the drawing is unknown, but there is a lithograph by Kudryakov with a similar subject and verses titled "The Seven Faces of Folklore, or the New Game of Leapfrog" (1858, GIM, inv. 73708 IIII 22348). It is likely that the watercolour drawing in this article was also created for the subsequent translation into print.
The inscription in iron gall ink caused the greatest concern. Corrosion could appear in the ink if it interacted with moisture. Because of this, we decided to avoid any wet or chemical treatments.
The heavily soiled and yellowed sheet was speckled with superficial fine brown spots. During the treatments, these were removed with soft erasers and these areas were subsequently tinted with watercolour paints.
The painting was previously folded in four, as evidenced by the vertical and horizontal breaks, taped from the back with paper strips. The method of wet compresses using agar-agar gel was used to remove those. The moisture gently permeated the paper strips and they could easily be removed from the sheet without damaging the backing. After removing the stickers, the sheet fell apart in several pieces at the breaks. Apparently, it had been taped earlier to put it back together. During the treatments, the areas of breaks were reinforced with Japanese paper and the losses due to previous mechanical influences were made up with a paper of identical age and colour. The corners of the drawing have also been repaired. In order to stabilize the glue and prevent deformation, the design was placed in a humidifier and then pressed between cloths for a fortnight.
As a result, by removing numerous stains, the drawing became more pronounced, the deformations disappeared, and the filling in of losses gave the work a finished, ready-for-display look.