Collection Care

Cleaning & Care OF Paintings

 

By April Hann Lanford

Cleaning and Care of Paintings

By April Hann Lanford

Paintings and gilded frames frequently come to our studio that have sustained damage from improper cleaning.  While clients attempt to their artwork with the best of intentions, sometimes cleaning can do more harm than good.  All cleaning processes involve contact with the surface of a piece, which causes friction on the surface. This eventually leads to abrasion, that cumulatively can damage the piece.

Oftentimes, it is better to have a light accumulation of dust rather than risk inadvertently damaging the piece that you are trying to care for.

Sage advice-Don’t be afraid to allow for a little accumulation of dust.

detail of paint loss caused by improper cleaning and dusting.  Artifact services chicago. Expert painting conservation. painting restoration

Always Check the Condition Prior to Cleaning

Before any attempts at dusting or cleaning, you should first check to make sure that the surface is stable.  If you are concerned about the condition of your painting, it is always best to first document the condition. The easiest way is with images. First take an overall image, and then take details.

Don’t forget about the back as well.  Oftentimes, the back of a canvas can provide crucial insight into the condition of the front.

Undulations in the canvas, craquelure, tears, and flaking paint, areas of paint loss, are all indicative of underlying complexities that should be further assessed by a conservator to determine the best approach for proper care.

If you find any detached stretcher keys, detached flakes of paint, or other detached elements, always keep those in a bag with the piece so that they can be incorporated in with repairs or conservation in the future.

 

Cleaning Paintings is Not a One Size Fits All Approach

Unless you are a trained conservator, never attempt to use any liquids or chemicals on a painted surface. Paintings have complex surfaces that involve multiple layers of varnish, pigmented glazes, varying impasto, etc. Add that to how the artwork has aged over time, or varying environmental exposures, damage or previous repairs, illustrates that each painting surface is unique.

I frequently am asked about using traditional cleaning methods such as bread or sliced potatoes are appropriate to use for cleaning paintings. Although these seem like innocuous, readily available materials, they can potentially leave a residue on the surface, stain or even abrade the paint layer.

Unique items and surfaces require individual care, which means, that there is not a single tried and true single approach.

oil painting impasto. detail of brush strokes. cleaning and care of paintings. oil on canvas. Painting conservation
Painting Conservation Frame Conservation Frame restoration. Dust accumulation on the back of a painting stretcher

Light Dusting-Less is Best

For care at home, paintings should only be lightly dusted with a very soft haired brush.   A large natural hair watercolor mop brush or cosmetic brush are preferable. When using these brushes, be sure to cover the metal ferrule to protect the painting from accidental contact with the metal.  Dusting should be undertaken with very little pressure or contact with the painting surface.

Dusting should never be undertaken if there are cracks or flaking evident on the painted surface.  Dusting may further weaken the bond of the paint layer and cause further loss to the surface.

Never Use Feather Dusters

Feather dusters should not be used as the ends of the spines can scratch the surface.  I frequently find the small tips of feathers that have broken off from dusters caught in the crevices of cracks in surfaces in works.

Don’t Overlook the Back

The back of the canvas is frequently overlooked. You never know what you might find on the back!  In addition to provenance labels, artist signatures, evidence of old repair, I have found old hanging hardware, nails, stretcher keys, and even a pencil caught between the bottom stretcher bar and the back of the canvas!

The textured back of the canvas support is the prime place for the accumulation of dust. The horizontal surfaces of the stretcher bars on the back also tend to gather dust.  Cleaning of the back of the canvas may take more time than the front of the painting. You can continue to use the same brush that was used for the front of the painting. When cleaning the back, be sure to place the canvas at a slight angle (rather than vertical or upright) so that the dust falls to the tabletop, and not further down where it could be caught between the bottom stretcher bar and the canvas.

When dusting, avoid applying pressure to the canvas as that could lead to insecurity or damage to the paint layer on the front.

antique frame repair. Antique frame restoration. frame cleaning in Chicago

When paintings are cleaned by a conservator, a protective backing board is secured to the back to provide protection from handling and to protect from accumulation of dust and debris on the back.

If you find old patches that are failing, tears, items stuck between the canvas and the bottom stretcher bar, you should contact a painting conservator to address these issues.

When cleaning paintings, it is important to always remember that “less is more”.  A subtle buildup of household dust does not necessarily warrant a full cleaning.  However, other exposures, such as construction dust, smoke, or mildew should not be taken lightly. Discolored varnishes, heavy grime, undulations in the canvas, tears, and flaking paint are all also indicative of underlying complexities.

Before attempting to address a concern yourself, you should contact a specialist in the field or conservator. Working with a specialist can confirm the optimal approach to maintain the painting’s integrity and avoid the risk of further damage.

If you have any questions about the care of your piece, please contact us at:

312-344-0331

April@artifactservices.com

Examinations, condition reports, and related cost estimates

can be completed at one of our studios, online or onsite

Call or email us today to work with us on your project 

At Our Studios

Clients are welcome to make an appointment to drop off items at one of our studio locations for an estimate.

Upon completion of the assessment, we will follow up with a written condition report and treatment proposal for your approval.

Custom framing appointments can also be made at any of locations.

To schedule an appointment please feel welcome to email, call, or submit an inquiry via through our form at the bottom of the page.

Online

We also welcome inquiries through email.

If you have questions about a general treatment or need an approximate cost for a project, you can send images and information about your piece.  When possible please include the following information:

Title, Artist, Medium, and Size

Condition Observations and Concerns

Images of the front and back, with any details.

We will call you to follow up and gather any further pertinent information.

Onsite

Clients are welcome to make an appointment to drop off items at one of our studio locations for an estimate.

Upon completion of the assessment, we will follow up with a written condition report and treatment proposal for your approval.

Custom framing appointments can also be made at any of locations.

To schedule an appointment please feel welcome to email, call, or submit an inquiry via through our form at the bottom of the page.

Contact

Get In touch

april@artifactservices.com
(312) 344-0331
Main Location: 840 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL  60642

By Appointment

Mon-Fri: 9:00am – 5pm
Sat: 10am-2pm
Sun: Closed

Send a message

Main Location

840 N. Milwaukee Ave, IL 60642

Complimentary parking is available in the loading zone in front of the building

Additional Locations

We can also serve you by appointment at our other locations in the Chicagoland area.

Lake Forest-Lincoln Park

Highland Park

 

Copyright 2020, Artifact Services, LLC | An ArtMill Group Company