What Cleaning A Painting May Uncover
For art lovers and enthusiasts everywhere, perhaps the most enjoyable part of art restoration is seeing the transformation brought about by cleaning artworks. It’s endlessly satisfying to watch as a painting loses the dirt and dust it has been smothered in for years, and emerge fresh-faced and with a new lease of life.
It’s especially interesting when we find something unexpected hidden underneath a thick layer of dirt.
Throughout the restoration process, we always return to our clients if we find anything interesting, unusual, or in some cases, troubling. Cleaning and restoring artworks is a continually surprising and fascinating foray into the life of a painting.
Craquelure can develop across the surface of a painting as the paint layers age and shrink. The network of fine cracks covering a painting can be unsightly and really ruin the appearance of an artwork, especially when cracks become filled with dirt.
The appearance of craquelure is particularly prevalent with light coloured paint layers. As such, for portraits with extensive cracking across the sitter’s face.
The cleaning of a painting can uncover craquelure, and in the most severe cases, the result after cleaning could be different to what was anticipated. (See our previous blog on Craquelure [link] for more detail on this phenomenon.)
It’s not always possible to be aware of the full history of a painting. Even if it has been part of a family for years or it has been purchased with detailed information on its provenance – there may be some details of the painting’s past that are missing.
While cleaning removes what shouldn’t be there, it also shows you what should be there but isn’t.
This is most apparent when facial features are incomplete. The reasons for why there may not be an intact mouth, nose or eye may prove to be a mystery, it’s possible it can be attributed to inappropriate paint or materials used in previous repair or damage.
It can be alarming at first to find the details that should bring a painting to life are missing, but (like with craquelure) similar careful pigment matching and retouching of the affected areas, the missing features can be sympathetically recreated.
Of course, it’s possible that another well-intentioned enthusiast may also add new details to a painting, and paint over the original features.
Before beginning cleaning, overpainting can be discovered under UV light. It is evident where newer paint has been applied over the original paint. The correct mixture of solvents can successfully remove the overpaint, and allow the conservator to assess the condition of the paint layer underneath.
One of the most enjoyable finds while cleaning is uncovering details of the painting’s provenance. This could be an artist’s signature, the date of the painting, or possibly the location of the painting. Sometimes these details are hidden underneath the dirt and have not been revealed to the current owner.
This can help to pinpoint accurate details and lead to further research and findings. When we keep in touch with clients, we always let them know if we have found such details and our discoveries are always exciting.
If you’d like more information on painting cleaning, please call the Gallery on 01256 701082 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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