The Conservation of Poedua: Part 5

The Conservation of Poedua: Part 5

In our last post we discussed the process of testing to identify the most appropriate cleaning solution to remove the surface dirt layer from the painting.

After finding the best cleaning solution for the painting the surface cleaning can begin, but we always carefully monitor our progress to ensure that the cleaning solution is working effectively without any adverse effects for the painting.

We generally begin in the lighter areas of the composition, because we can see the progress best in these areas and it allows us to get a feel for the action of our cleaning solution.  We hand-roll cotton wool swabs on bamboo sticks and slightly dampen the swabs with the cleaning solution.  The damp swabs are rolled across the surface of the painting and the dirt is lifted and removed from the surface.  We stop rolling the swab once it appears dirty.  We don’t want to roll the dirty swab across the surface because the particles which collect on the swab may be abrasive.  Because this painting is so dirty we had to change our swabs quite regularly!

Here are some nice photos to show you the progress of the surface clean.  You can see the difference that removing this layer has on the colours, tone and depth in the painting.

We begin by expanding our test areas. This rectangle is the first area of the painting to be cleaned. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle. © Te Papa.


We continue by expanding the rectangle. The removal of the surface dirt layer is revealing the depth in the composition. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa


The cotton wool swabs are changed after a few rolls across the surface. We filled three jars of swabs completing this treatment. Photograph by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa


Katherine and I working on the painting. Photograph taken by James Kirk, 2011. © Te Papa.
Cleaning progressed from right to left. In this detail the difference between the dirty and the cleaned sections is distinct. Photograph taken by Katherine Campbell, 2011. © Te Papa.


The cleaning is almost there! The top left of this detail is all that remains of the surface dirt layer. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa.
Katherine works cleaning the top left corner. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa.


The painting after the surface cleaning. The varnish layer still hides the true colours and tones, but already we see a great improvement. Photograph by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa.

There has been a significant change in the appearance of the painting and Poedua is looking much better already!  The removal of the surface dirt layer has revealed the varnish layer beneath it.  The varnish is yellow, discoloured and uneven.  The next stage of the treatment is to remove this varnish layer.  This is the most complicated stage of the treatment.


  1. What an improvement already – you guys have been busy! I’m looking forward to following your progress with the varnish removal.

  2. Thanks for your comment Blaine. The cleaning of a painting is a complex process and I would recommend that only a conservator should complete this treatment. You can find out more about our code of ethics and find a conservator in your area here:

  3. The photos and stories of the cleaning are fascinating and I look forward to the next installment!

  4. The canvas really shows its’ cleaning. What cleaner would you recomend for one too use doing that? I’ve got canvases that are mixed media and don’t want to take any of the paint off while cleaning (acrylics, oil s , linseed & sunflower , gouach & tempras’. Would like to get them clean so one can varnish them

  5. Poedua surface was filthy – wouldn’t have guessed how much so. She’s starting to glow.

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