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House Grime and Yellowed Varnish on Oil Paintings- What Are Your Options?

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This oil  painting’s varnish is covered with grime and discolored- yellowed leaving the original colors dim and darker than the artist had originally intended. If you are thinking about whether you should have a painting cleaned, remember this: cleaning artwork is usually an aesthetic issue/question… not a preservation question. If all you are concerned about is preserving the painting, then don’t have it cleaned. If you want to have it look its best, then cleaning may be required.

Also on this painting; towards the lower left side there is a small 2″ tear in the canvas. This is a preservation problem to be corrected. But here also you will be asked to make a decision: to patch or to “line” the painting. Actually, there is third choice. We don’t patch paintings because they set into motion other problems in the future (cracking patterns, puckering/bulges). But a local “reweaving” of the rip may be possible and the rip may be repaired without a patch and without lining. Your local conservator/restorer can explain this to you. Each choice has a long term preservation consequence.

The lost paint at the rip will then need to be filled and inpainted to match perfectly. If you decide to have the painting cleaned and treat the rip so it is not visible, after restoration the painting will have brighter colors, enhanced depth of field, the tear will disappear and the varnish will look even and clear. Then, you’ll need to think about lighting at home or the office… but that’s another blog post.

Here’s a quick video that may be of interest:

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Here’s another 30 second video

5 Responses to "House Grime and Yellowed Varnish on Oil Paintings- What Are Your Options?"
  1. Susan Kilroy says:

    Hi Scott,

    Hope this email finds you well. My name is Susan and I manage content for Just wanted to express my sincere interest in your site. It’s not often that one comes across a site that is so well-written and creatively expressed. Thanks again for the great content!

  2. Vivian Dorris says:

    Scott’s work is truly exquisite. I am a total perfectionist and have to say that he is one of the best conservationists in the country. Would never use anyone else ever again. Thank you Scott
    Palm Beach Florida

  3. Amelie says:

    Do these processes decrease the value of the painting?

    • Scott Haskins says:

      Thanks Amelie for your question. Grime and dirty varnish usually do not have an effect on the financial value of a painting although if its dirty enough it could. Proper cleaning will be safe and leave the artwork in its original virgin condition, so once again, the financial value will not be compromised. The real risk to the financial value is an inept cleaning, damaging the artwork.

      Of course, there is more that just financial value to consider: emotional value and historical value of artwork is equally super important and often very motivating for people to be sure to get the right kind of professional help and advice.

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