Scientific Examination of the Painting Entitled While Baby Sleeps
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Scientific examination of the painting entitled While Baby Sleeps was undertaken due to concerns raised during a conservation treatment in 1986 regarding its attribution to Canadian painter Paul Peel. At this time, doubts were cast regarding the signature in the lower left corner, “PAUL PEEL/PARIS -1888,” since it was soluble in the solvent mixture used to remove the varnish layer, suggesting it had been placed on top of the varnish. Furthermore, paint texture with no relation to the present image was detected, as well as evidence that the lower right hand corner of the painting had been scraped down. For this thesis, cross-sections were excised from the P and U in PAUL. The cross-section from the letter P showed a more complex layered structure than that obtained from the U. Additionally, the U cross-section showed clear evidence that it had been reinforced in the past, since the final paint layer appeared over the varnish layer. Non-contact analytical techniques such as x-ray radiography, UV-induced fluorescence, and infrared reflectography indicated the presence of a previous composition. Micro-destructive samples were obtained in the form of cross-sections and paint microsamples and were used to evaluate whether any paints contain elements indicative of materials not available during Peel’s lifetime. None of the samples tested by SEM-EDS revealed any such incongruencies. The findings do not shed definitive light on the attribution debate surrounding While Baby Sleeps. Therefore, Peel cannot be excluded as the artist of this work, nor can his authorship be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. The subject matter depicted in While Baby Sleeps is in keeping with Peel’s style, however very little information regarding its provenance before arriving at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) is known.