Posts Tagged ‘cleaning a painting’

Cleaning an Ancestor’s Oil Painting Portrait – Short, Interesting Time Lapse Video

There seems to be a plethora of vintage family ancestor oil painting portraits in the lab right now. So, I thought you would enjoy seeing a short time lapse video of the cleaning process. To make this video I tried a new app for my iPad that was fun… and it worked! Here’s the video:

Some people think that cleaning a painting is a per square inch type of estimating and that I should be able to do it over the phone. But to clean an old oil painting safely, we need to do solubility tests with each of the solvents we might use to make sure they dissolve the varnish without dissolving the original paint! Sometimes we use a head-mounted magnifier to get a closer look and sometimes we use a stereobinocular microscope! Varnish qualities vary widely and just when you think it looks “normal” you find that the varnish in question won’t come off with the usual stand bys.

I thought this painting would take about $300 in time and materials to clean but instead, it resisted and took about $600.00 in time and materials to clean completely and safely (no adverse affects on the original paint). So, as you can see, the cleaning process (as are some of the other art conservation treatments) requires, sometimes, a “discovery process.” Most of the time, however, we nail the estimate up front but some of you may be happy to know that the “unknown factor” happens to me too when I work on my artwork.

The “take away” for you from this article is a better knowledge of the estimating and discovery process when cleaning a painting. That may help you to have a better conversation when you talk to an art conservator.

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Welcoming the Arrival of Immigrants by Carl Christian Anton Christensen

By Eleanor Nelson, Guest Blogger

Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831-1912) was born in Copenhagen and joined the LDS church in 1850. After missions in Norway, he eventually settled in America, travelling to Utah with his wife as part of a Danish handcart company. He is beloved for his paintings illustrating the history and culture of the LDS church, and has been described as having done “more than any other person to capture the images of the history of the Mormon migration to Utah and the life lived there.”

His many accomplishments included the paintings in the St George Temple and the Creation Room of the Manti Temple. His best known work is the Mormon Panorama: a group of paintings, 7ft high and 13ft wide, that were sewn together at the ends and scrolled on spools to create a moving picture of the history of the church. Christensen travelled with this piece around Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, using it as a helpful teaching device for accompanying presentations.

This wonderful painting, Welcoming Arriving Immigrants, shows immigrants arriving in Zion. It conveys the happy and welcoming spirit that Christensen felt about being part of God’s people. It was so well thought of that he made at least two other copies of the painting, one of which hangs in the Museum of History and Art of the LDS Church.

The painting was cleaned as part of its art restoration treatments in 1981 and was in reasonably good condition. Light cracking over most of the surface was present but not causing any problems. It was, however, covered with a very discolored layer of varnish. When varnish yellows over time, a general color shift occurs throughout the painting: blues become greens; purples become browns. Contrast is usually reduced between the figures in the composition and so the painting takes on an overall flatter appearance.

Before the painting was cleaned, solubility tests were performed to check the sensitivity of the original colors to the solvents that might be used for dissolving the varnish. These are standard operating procedures for painting conservation. It is imperative when cleaning varnish off a painting that the original colors are not affected. Once the testing was completed, a custom mixture of solvent was formulated and the discolored varnish was removed, square inch by square inch with Q-tips and magnifying lenses.

During the removal process, it was quickly realized that there was a second layer of varnish underneath the first. This was also discolored, but much harder than the top layer, and was not removed during the cleaning process, partly due to budgetary constraints. Also, the dramatic improvement achieved by the removal of the first layer satisfied the client so no further work was done. This decision had no negative influence for the preservation of the painting. It received several layers of synthetic varnish, used in art conservation because it is easy to remove far into the future and does not yellow. Any time in the future a follow-up cleaning can be performed.

This painting is on exhibit in the conference room of the International Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City.


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