The Conservation of Poedua – Part 7

In the paintings conservation lab, we have been working away steadily on the varnish removal of Poedua.  Every now-and-then we come across a painting where this stage of the treatment is relatively easy, where a simple organic solvent solution is effective in removing the varnish without any effect to any part of the underlying paint layer.  More often than not the treatment of varnish removal is more complicated and Poedua falls into this category!

There are many factors which make the treatment of varnish removal different for every painting that comes into the lab.  The materials and techniques of the artist are a contributing factor and with this painting the extremely thin paint layer and the use of glazes have resulted in the difficulties in the treatment.

The pale spots on the arm of Poedua are areas where the varnish has been removed. The exposed paint layer appears matte and dry and will be saturated again once the painting is revarnished. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa.

More varnish removal test areas. The white hazy areas on some spots are caused by varnish residues remaining on the surface. This occurs when the solution does not work effectively at removing the entire varnish layer. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa.

 Our initial testing identified some issues and we have had to stop and reassess our options and consider more complex cleaning strategies.  This is not unusual!  Varnish removals are the most complex treatments that paintings conservators perform and this is a part of our working process.  We begin with simple solutions and build up to something more complex when necessary.

Melanie cleaning a small test area in the drapery. Photograph taken by Katherine Campbell, 2011. © Te Papa

The same area after the varnish has been removed. Photograph taken by Katherine Campbell, 2011. © Te Papa

We have now formulated a method for removing the varnish layer from Poedua.  Our progress will be constantly monitored throughout the treatment.  It is a slow process, but the result will be worth all the time and effort.

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