Cleaning and varnish and overpaint removal

The removal of layers of dirt (including smoke damage, accumulated atmospheric pollution, nicotine, soot etc.) from paintings is carried out following careful tests to ensure that no damage is done to the underlying layers of paint, glazes and varnishes.

In some cases this may be all that is required to bring the image back to an acceptable level of visibility.

The removal of layers of often dull and darkened varnish is considered and carried out even more carefully, given the potential for there to be artists glazes or tinted varnishes present. It is also sometimes the case that artists’ signatures are painted on top of a varnish. Replacing old varnish with new, in contemporary restoration practice, means using modern, conservation grade resins which do not tend to yellow and remain reversible.

The removal of layers of overpaint (previous restoration) can be done following tests and examination. Some overpaint may look unsightly but conceal large losses in the original paint whilst some may have an acceptable appearance. Old retouching carried out in oil paints will almost always have darkened over time. These are some of the factors to consider and why removing such layers is undertaken on a case by case basis.

Varnish and/or overpaint removal is considered after close inspection (often involving UV light examination) and tests. In complex cases this may involve more technical photographic analysis and some laboratory work. The emphasis in all cases is to avoid ‘over cleaning’, (the removal of artists original material).

ARH Conservation

Cleaning

Portrait of Maharajah before treatment.

Portrait of Maharajah before treatment.

Portrait of Maharajah after conservation.

Portrait of Maharajah after conservation.

19th century beach scene with paint loss to edges during cleaning

… after all conservation and restoration treatments

Surface dirt removal test (sitter’s left knee) from an unvarnished 20th century painting

Detail of 18th century painting during varnish removal

Small varnish removal test (cloud top right) on an 18th century seascape

Surface dirt and ink removal from a 20th century portrait

Removing discoloured varnish from a 1930’s portrait.

Removing discoloured varnish from a 1930’s portrait.

1930’s portrait after conservation.

1930’s portrait after conservation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oval painting before treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oval painting after treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oval painting during cleaning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

19th century portrait of a clergyman during cleaning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

19th century portrait of a clergyman after treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

19th century portrait during varnish removal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

19th century portrait during varnish removal.

Partially cleaned Station of the Cross.

Partially cleaned Station of the Cross.

Fully cleaned Station of the Cross.

Fully cleaned Station of the Cross.

19th Century portrait after conservation.

19th Century portrait after conservation.

Detail of cleaning to 19th Century portrait.

Detail of cleaning to 19th Century portrait.

Detail of cleaning to an Indian painting of a Sari shop.

Detail of cleaning to an Indian painting of a Sari shop.

Painting of a Sari shop after conservation.

Painting of a Sari shop after conservation.

Detail of a 19th century portrait of a Scotsman during varnish removal.

Detail of a 19th century portrait of a Scotsman during varnish removal.

Scotsman after treatment to painting and frame.

Scotsman after treatment to painting and frame.