Degas’s drawing Mounted Jockey appeared in a 1940 catalogue Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art—though it wasn’t yet part of the collections. It had been promised to the museum by collector and Fogg associate director Paul Sachs. But before Sachs could give it to Harvard, the drawing was stolen while on exhibition elsewhere in the United States. In 2015, the work reappeared as part of an estate and was promptly delivered to the Harvard Art Museums. In the years it was lost, the drawing had suffered.
This spirited sketch from the late 1860s was drawn in essence with a brush. Essence is a technique in which paint is drained of oil and mixed with turpentine to give it a matte gouache-like consistency. Degas used the brown color of the paper as a middle tone, describing the figure with rapid, energetic black lines, and then adding highlights in white to bolster the contrasts and heighten the effect of this figural study. The motif depicted here is connected to one of the artist’s favorite subjects of modern life: the horse race. A luxury sport imported from England, horse racing was in vogue in 19th-century Paris. Degas loved it almost as much as the ballet, and he dedicated many paintings and drawings to the sport.
The time away from the museums had taken its toll on Degas’s sketch. When we examined it in 2015, we found it had been adhered to a mat with paper remnants along the verso edges. The thin wove tan paper had darkened with a noticeable mat burn (a dark brown line around the perimeter of the drawing due to contact with a former acidic mat). Stains, possibly oil-based, were scattered around the surface. Of utmost concern was the missing upper left corner, which quite literally ruined the work’s visual appeal.
In consultation with Edouard Kopp, then Maida and George Abrams Associate Curator of Drawings, we decided not to treat the oil stains, which could have originated in the artist’s studio and therefore should be preserved. In addition, I wasn’t totally confident that they could be significantly reduced to improve the general appearance of the paper. Instead the treatment would focus on the removal of the edge papers and the filling of the loss at the upper left corner.
To prepare this intervention, I removed the additional paper tapes from the verso with controlled moisture. There were two approaches to consider to fill in the loss: to use an existing paper similar in tone and thickness and toned to match, or to use specifically generated paper pulp. Since Degas’s paper was an unusual color, I decided to use pulp and to create, or cast, my own paper to replace the corner. In this process, colored papers are washed (to reduce and remove any degradation products), torn into small pieces, and beaten in a household blender to reduce the paper to pulp. I was able to vary the proportions of my different pulp slurries to end up with a paper patch that closely matched the required color. In addition, the texture and softness of the newly formed paper was quite similar to the drawing support. It turned out to be the ideal material to replace the loss.
Once I had a significant number of brown-colored pulp patches, I sought the best-toned patch for the drawing.
I placed the best matching patch under the missing corner and carefully pricked the outline of the edge into my patch. Using a thin needle and a sharp scalpel, I teased out the pulp to conform my edge to the remaining edge of the drawing.
I toned the patch with Winsor & Newton watercolors and attached it to the drawing with wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. In addition, I adhered two layers of toned Japanese paper to the verso with wheat starch paste to give the corner additional support.
To achieve the final color compensation, I applied Sennelier pastels and Pan Pastels with a soft sponge.
With the fill attached and toned as best as possible, I trimmed the edges of my patch. The drawing is now complete and ready once again for study and display.
Anne Driesse is senior paper conservator in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums.
 Shelley Fletcher and Pia Desantis, “Degas: The Search for His Technique Continues,” The Burlington Magazine 131 (1033) (1989): 256–65.