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Much Does It Cost To Clean A Painting?

Do you mean this one... ... or this one ... or this one... or?

Damaged in a fire Nicotine with flaking paint Sealed in grime and abundant bad retouchings

Obviously, each one is tested to discover the best and safest way for its
particular needs. No off the shelf products are used. You dont hit it with a

As a painting conservator in private practice I'm asked everyday over the phone or
from a photo and email, "How much does it cost to clean a painting?" as if it were a
per square inch trades-estimate like laying electrical conduit or painting a house.
We don't hit anything with a mop. The article below illustrates well the discovery
process and the care required on this particular Old Master painting. But Old Master
paintings clean differently than Impressionist paintings. Beaux Arts paintings clean
differently than Post War Abstract Expressionism. Modern acrylic paintings are
different than your family's 19th century family portrait.

In fact, we worked on the famous series of 40 paintings, ALL done between 1874
and 1886 of the Spanish missions of California by (THE SAME ARTIST) Henry

Chapman Ford for the Mission Inn in Riverside CA... and everyone of them had to be
cleaned differently than the other.

It takes discovery and analysis, care and judgment and a professional work ethic. To
see the difference between cleaning the artwork in this article and an Impressionist
picture with a lot less complications watch this short time-lapse cleaning video of a
renown CA Impressionist Edgar Payne's artwork... and this wasn't a quick-wipe-
cleaning either!

Give us a call and well gladly take the time to discuss your questions. Connect
with us and well inspect your painting and give you an estimate for free. If you
live between Monterey, Ca and San Diego or Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, well
even provide door to door service.

Contact Fine Art Conservation Laboratories at 805 564 3438 for a short video tour of our lab

If we are going to invest the time and resources to fully conserve a work of art, we want to be sure
the work is worth the effort. Is the painting worthy of the time and resources? Are we learning
anything about the painting, the artist, or the subject? Is the original in good enough condition to
reveal it, or is the damage too severe?

The NCMA portraits of Lord and Lady Cavendish by Paul van Somer have rarely left the gallery
walls in the past few decades. They are considered key works in our collection, holding an
important place as good early portraits and favorites of our Education Department. The Cavendish
family was prominent in early 17th-century England. Our Lord William was a leading member of
court society, a member of Parliament, and a close friend of King James I. After Williams untimely
death from overindulgence, his wife, Lady Christian, navigated debt and civil war to preserve the
family fortunes.

While many paintings are attributed to Paul van Somer, only a handful are irrefutably by
his hand. A Flemish portrait painter, Van Somer went to England at age 40 and quickly
became a favorite of King James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. Van Somers work in
England formed an important transition between the stiff and formal paintings of Queen
Elizabeths day and the more naturalistic painting realized by Van Dyck in the mid 17th
century. Van Somer died at 45, leaving behind only a few documented paintings, making
the NCMAs signed and dated pair highly important to the understanding of his oeuvre.

In the natural course of events, restoration seems to happen about once every hundred
years when works of art change hands, are inherited, sold, or purchased. Each cycle tends
to include retouching or overpainting and the application of varnish. With time these
restorations age and degrade, resulting in darkening and discoloration. As a result the
quality of the artists work becomes harder to discern, sometimes to the point that you
cant see the original at all. Our 400-year-old Van Somers appear to have received at least
three rounds of restoration. While the paintings are readable, we see only a suggestion of
the original color and detail. A modern conservation treatment addresses this by removing
all nonoriginal material to the extent possible without damaging the work of the artist.
Conservators have to proceed
with great caution to avoid
any damage to the original
painting. The preferred route
is to unpack the
accumulated layers one by
one, systematically removing
them from newest to oldest.
The most recent varnish and
restoration paint on our
Cavendish portraits was
probably applied in the early
20th century, not long before
they came to the Museum in
the 1950s. This restoration
layer was removed fairly
quickly with simple mixtures
of mild solvents applied with
large cotton swabs.

The next layer probably dates
from the 18th or early 19th
century. Aging restoration
materials tend to become
increasingly insoluble with
time. These layers follow that
pattern, requiring more
complex cleaning systems
with stronger solvents.

The third and oldest

restoration lies directly on the
surface of the original paint.

This layer can be indirectly dated by the late 17th century cartalini or inscription in the
lower corner of each portrait that was painted on top of this restoration layer. This
restoration covers paint damage, losses that suggest water damage, and long creases that
might occur from trauma or neglect.

This last layer of restoration proved to be very hard and insoluble, difficult if not
impossible to remove with conventional cleaning methods. Conservators often avoid
removing this type of restoration for fear of damaging the underlying original. But with the
help of a laser invented by Duke professor and art conservator Adele De Cruz, combined
with solvents and scalpels, we are able to remove this layer and reveal the underlying
original colors and details. This work is performed under high magnification to ensure the
original paint surface isnt harmed. This is really slow work, a few inches a day at best.

Weve uncovered numerous fine details of Van Somerss technique, including the
beautifully painted garments and the diamond and pearl jewelry. Most exciting has been
the rediscovery of the long-lost emerald green background and the blue feather in Lady
Cavendishs hair. This work is slowly
changing the paintings from their
overall brown appearance to the
subtle but opulent red, purple, and
green color scheme initially realized
by the artist.

The cleaning is also revealing long
scratches and numerous islands of
paint loss, as well as significant
abrasion and alteration from past
restorations. Nevertheless, along
with the reality of what the painting
has lost comes the revelation of
long-hidden nuance and detail,
evidence of the artists hand that has
been obscured by time and
restoration. If weve done our job
well, then we have a whole new
understanding of the skill of Paul
van Somer, and a better idea of what
Sir William and Lady Christian really
looked like.