How to treat water damaged paintings

If your painting comes into contact with water, via a flood, burst pipe or accident, the resulting damage can be very distressing.

As accidents and will happen we will be able to provide recommendations for restoration of water damage to paintings.

At the initial assessment, we will assess the extent of water damage and this determines the treatment method suitable. As with any damage to artwork, each painting is affected in a different way.

The cleanliness of the water is a factor to consider. It will likely be dirty (definitely in the case of a flood) and have contaminants that can cause further deterioration to the painting.

While a varnish acts as protection for the paint layer, being exposed to water will eventually cause the varnish to be penetrated. Once the varnish layer has been compromised, the paint is therefore exposed and at risk.

The integrity of the canvas support coincides with the damage to the varnish and paint layers. Moisture dramatically reacts with a canvas, causing significant shrinking when wet. This subsequently leads to the paint and ground layers cracking and flaking off. Paint and varnish surfaces can also blanch.

Wooden stretcher bars will swell and may warp, possibly causing distortions and tears in the canvas.

Treatment Options

It could be that the canvas will need to be removed from the stretcher bars. A dehumidifying process will begin to dry the painting and new stretcher bars.

When the painting undergoes a solvent-based clean, tests are carried out to determine the efficacy and compatibility with the painting.

Flaking paint will be stabilized, and re-adhered to the canvas. Flaking paint layers can be consolidated in several ways, depending on the individual needs of the painting. The most commonly used animal glues for consolidation is fish glue and rabbit skin glue.

Another treatment method for paint that is starting to lift is the use of a Preservation Pencil. The Pencil reactivates the adhesive under the paint layer and allows the flaking paint to be re-adhered.

Where there are areas of losses, pigments can be sampled and colour matched, and the paint can be carefully applied to the canvas.

If the canvas has torn, depending on the severity and condition of the tear, a full re-line or spot line will be able to stabilize and strengthen the canvas.

Another concern is the development of mould – damp canvas paintings can be particularly vulnerable.

The damage caused by water sounds significant, however, it can be successfully counteracted by conservation treatments so you can continue to enjoy your painting.

To discuss getting your prized artwork restored please get in touch.