Salvaging a Masterpiece

Authored by: Nicole Fletcher on April 15, 2013

Radovan and Way to Calvary

Two weeks ago, the WAG's Head of Conservation, Radovan Radulovic gave a fascinating presentation about one of his current major restoration projects at Art for Lunch. Radovan is originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Serbia earning a Fine Arts degree. He then went on to complete his Masters in Painting Restoration at the same institution. Radovan emigrated to Canada in September 2001 and has been working at the WAG for since early 2002.

Conservation is a lesser known aspect of work at art galleries but it can be one of the most interesting. Although much of Radovan's job consists of condition reporting and other administrative duties, he occasionally gets to work on large restoration projects such as the Way to Calvary.

This work was donated to the WAG in 1952 as part of the James Cleghorn Collection. The painting is a copy of Christ Falls on the Way to Calvary by Raphael which resides at the Museo Nacional del Prado. Although the WAG's copy is also signed as Raphael the attribution is suspicious. It is believed that  the painting is not actually by Raphael but more research and analysis is required to verify the actual date and possible artist of the work. Either way, the WAG's copy is a beautiful painting worth viewing.

Raphael, Christ Falls on the Way to Calvary, Museo Nacional del PradoUnknown Artist, Way to Calvary, Winnipeg Art Gallery


Restoration projects are long and arduous. I have drastically simplified this description; there are actually many more steps to undertaking such a project!

1. First, the painting must be cleaned. If you have ever seen before and after photos of the Sistine Chapel ceiling you know how important cleaning a painting is! Radovan spent over 300 hours removing the varnish from the painting. He used approximately 1,000 1.5in long hand-rolled cotton swabs during this process.

After CleaningBefore Cleaning


2. Radovan then had to remove old "touch-ups". The painting had be worked on many times in the past and as with any field, best practices change over time. Modern conservators try to cover up as little of the original painting as possible and whatever work they do is completely reversible (or this happens). Previous conservationists did not use this method so Radovan spent many hours using a microscope and scalpel to remove paint from previous restoration attempts.

3. The painting is on two attached pieces of wood and the joint of the two panels was in need of repair. Originally, the panels were held together by dovetail bracing in the back and later someone had stapled the panels together. The wood had warped over the years causing the two sections of the painting to become uneven and the bracing to deteriorate. So the painting was not exactly sturdy anymore. Radovan carefully separated the two boards and went through the (I assume stressful) process of aligning the boards as best as possible and adhering them back together.


4. After applying a layer of varnish, Radovan could finally begin work inpainting! Since this work is a copy of a known Rahpael, Radovan is fortunate to be able to use a photo of the Prado's painting as a reference for lost sections of the WAG's version. After about 1,000 hours of work, he is not done working on the Way to Calvary yet. Hopefully the painting will be ready for display in about a year.

What are your thoughts on the Way to Calvary and its restoration? Please leave your comments below!

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  • Radovan's work is excellent, he really is the master...

    marija tatarkin

    2013-04-19 19:45

  • Mr Radulovic,could you do my face lift?


    2013-04-20 05:48

  • When I visited the Prado in the late 60s, there were many students scattered thru the gallery, copying various paintings. The fact this is a copy isn't unusual, but it's age and the quality of the copyist sets it apart.

    I wonder, is there a Copyist Program at the WAG, as in some other galleries, like the National Gallery in Washington? Do any Canadian galleries have such a program?

    Holly Nelson

    2015-05-20 10:41

  • Hello Holly,
    Sometimes we have sketching in the galleries classes. There is a session currently taking place based on Olympus. If you're interested in our art classes, please contact the Studio at 204.789.1766.

    Winnipeg Art Gallery

    2015-05-20 14:08

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