Restoration of paper artworks


The archives of the RKD store countless prints, drawings and posters. To make sure these fragile paper works are protected and in order to make them available for future research, they must be properly preserved and restored. Recently, a few of these works have been taken care of by Hoogduin Paper Restorers.


One of those artworks is a drawing by the artist Titia Buning-Brongers (1904-1961) from Drenthe. It is a charcoal drawing of a man, with a stern facial expression that has been created through just a few rough lines. The drawing is an interesting glimpse into the design process of Buning-Brongers, who was best known for her colourful watercolour drawings. Many of her works have been donated to Museum Henriette Polak in Zutphen, where paintings by Titia's husband, the Amsterdam painter Johan Buning (1893-1963), can also be found. The unique charcoal sketch by Buning-Brongers, housed in the collection of the RKD, was in poor condition and therefore in dire need of restoration.

1. Titia Buning-Brongers, Charcoal drawing of a man, c. 1927-1963, collection RKD 
2. As can be seen from this crack, Buning-Brongers’ sketch was considerably damaged.
3. During the restoration, the large tear was repaired using Japanese paper, some of which can still be seen on the reverse.


The same could be said about a map created by artist Jan Bronner (1881-1972). This drawing provides a detailed top view of Bronners' design for the Hildebrand monument in the Haarlemmerhout, which would later prove to be his most important work. The monument consists of an octagonal fountain with an corresponding group of sculptures. In this sketch, Bronner focuses mainly on the surroundings of the monument, with the nearby greenery carefully elaborated in coloured pencil. Prior to restoration, this drawing also had several rips and missing parts.

Repairing ripped paper

First, the drawings by Buning-Brongers and Bronner were dry cleaned at the back and, because both works were curled and/or folded, they were also flattened. In this part of the restoration process, the drawings were dampened and dried under weights. Then tears and missing parts were repaired and supplemented with Japanese paper of different thicknesses (depending on the damage and the original paper of the drawing). Japanese paper is made from the bark of mulberry trees and has a relatively long fiber, which makes it strong and easy to adhere to the edges of the ripped paper. The goal here is to restore the paper without discoloration or distortion. The choice of the type of glue used also matters in this process. It is important to look at the way in which the paper to be restored and its material react to water and moisture. In this case, different kinds of adhesives were used during the restorations of the drawings by Buning-Brongers and Bronner. Ultimately, the restoration aims to either repair or stabilize damage so that further deterioration is prevented for future exhibition, use and handling.

1. Jan Bronner, Design Hildebrand monument, 1955, collection RKD 
2. Jan Bronner’s design had large cracks and missing sections prior to the restoration. 
3. After the restoration, Bronner’s design looks solid again as the sketch has been glued back together.
4. The cracks in this design have been repaired using Japanese paper.

Exhibition posters

The RKD not only stores drawings in their archives, but also safeguards many other paper works. Exhibition posters, for instance, which can give an important insight into the artistic trends and the corresponding ideas about new works at a certain time period. An example of such a work that is kept in the collection of the RKD is the poster of a J.H. Weissenbruch exhibition at the Kunsthandel Frans Buffa & Zonen in Amsterdam. This gallery specialized in paintings from the Hague School and was proud of the fact that there was always something new to see in their store on the Kalverstraat. That is why Buffa organized a brand new exhibition every two months, in which the mostly new works of contemporary Dutch and international artists attracted a lot of attention. Though the poster is fortunately still clearly legible, the fragile paper was almost impossible to handle due to the large amount of tears.

1. Kunsthandel Frans Buffa & Zonen, Poster of an exhibition of work by J.H. Weissenbruch, 1899, collection RKD 
2. The fragile paper of the poster was almost impossible to handle due to the many tears.
3. The tears in the exhibition poster were repaired and the paper was reinforced. The poster was also fitted with an acid-free cover.

Preventative preservation

Similar to the drawings by Buning-Brongers and Bronner, the poster of the Weissenbruch exhibition was first cleaned dry and then restored with Japanese paper. The restorers have also given the work an acid-free cover. Acidification in the paper can cause discolorations and weak parts. This is a common occurrence with wood-containing paper, and this is precisely the type of paper on which many of the drawings in this collection are made. Paper works are extra vulnerable, which is why proper packaging and excellent storage conditions are important. This preventive conservation method ensures that the exhibition poster by Buffa & Zonen can safely be stored in the depot of the RKD for years to come.

Further research

Because of the conservation in the RKD and the restoration by Hoogduin Paper Restorers, it is possible that paper artworks, such as the sketch by Titia Buning-Brongers or the exhibition poster by Buffa & Zonen, can be consulted for art historical research in the future. The restoration of these archival items also ensures that the works are in good condition prior to the digitization of this collection. This way, the paper works can be added to the RKDimages database, enabling digital access to these artworks for future research as well.