My One and Only Attempt at Cleaning a Painting

In one of the courses we’re taking this term, Principles of Conservation, we have the opportunity to discuss the complexities of conservation treatments. Along with discussion of the ethics and practicalities of examination, documentation, cleaning, adhesion, consolidation, compensation, etc, we also have the chance to try out our hand skills. As part of the course, we were given a short introduction to cleaning oil paintings and were each given a painting with much soiling and numerous stains.

As a book conservator, this was probably the first and last time I would do anything of the kind, so I took lots of pictures!

Using soft brushes, we started by gently brushing off any large particles into a waiting HEPA-filtered vacuum.

Here I am, ready to start, with sponges and scalpel at the ready!

Here I am, ready to start, with sponges and scalpel at the ready!

Then, we went over the painted surface with successive grades of sponges—of both the dry-cleaning and make-up variety–to pick up as much of the remaining particulate matter as possible.

This was my sponge after the first round of dry-cleaning.

This was my sponge after the first round of dry-cleaning.

Now I am through with two sponges!

Now I am through with two sponges!

Once we were done with the ‘dry’ portion of the cleaning, we switched to solvents. Turns out, one solvent that is at our disposal was saliva! We moistened swabs and gently cleaned the whole painting.

Dirty swabs piling up as I spit-cleaned the painting.

Dirty swabs piling up as I spit-cleaned the painting.

The saliva successfully removed the wine spots, but there were still some stains left from wax droplets, acrylic-paint spillage and a piece of brown paper tape. The brown paper tape came off with the application of a damp swab, leaving behind adhesive that luckily also came off after I swabbed further. The wax came off with a combination of mechanical effort (using the scalpel blade) and the application of a swab moistened with benzine.

These were all the leavings after cleaning!

These were all the leavings after cleaning!

I spent the remaining class time trying to get the acrylic off, but to no avail.

This was as ‘done’ as my painting got!

This was as ‘done’ as my painting got!

It was rather fun cleaning the painting, but also somewhat terrifying. I’ve never wanted to work on paintings, and it was my first time using benzine as a solvent — or even scraping something off the surface of a painting. It was a little unnerving to be scraping on an uneven surface, where the slightest misplaced pressure could damage any underlying impasto. I was very glad that these were paintings made—and dirtied—specifically for our use in this class, and that they were not more valuable!

It was exciting to have the chance to do this (admittedly very quick and basic) cleaning, since it’s unlikely I’ll ever clean a painting again. In a way, it’s almost more important for me to have done this specifically because it is beyond my comfort zone and outside of my intended field — It is important to know what is going on in other fields of conservation, and to know that if I come across a painted book, there are certain concerns that I will have to take into account that are very different from those of other books.

~Saira

Advertisements

One response to “My One and Only Attempt at Cleaning a Painting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s