The Conservation of Poedua – Part 10

The Conservation of Poedua – Part 10

Hello everyone, we are back with our fortnightly updates on the treatment of John Webber’s Poedua.

We are progressing slowing with the cleaning of the painting.  At this stage, the cleaning involves the varnish removal and the removal of overpaints (later additions by a previous restorer).

The painting on the easel in the Paintings Conservation lab. You can see some areas where the varnish has been removed; the sky to the right of Poedua's arm and square patches in the tapa cloth. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa

Today’s blog post will focus on one stage of the cleaning – the removal of the paper label which was attached to the face of the painting down in the bottom right corner.  This label may have been attached for a sale or an exhibition that the painting was once in.  The paper label had been completely saturated with varnish, which made it resistant to the aqueous solutions that we would normally use on paper.  Using the same solvent solution we have been utilising for the varnish removal, we drew as much of the varnish out of the paper as possible and then applied a methyl cellulose gel to soften the paper label which allowed it to be removed.

During the removal process. This image shows the paper label coated with a layer of methyl cellulose. The Mylar on top ensures the methyl cellulose does not 'dry-up'. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa

We discovered that there were actually two paper labels, as well as the remnants of another, one on top of the other, which we managed to separate during the removal process.  We took great care to remove the labels whilst keeping them as intact as possible.  The paper remnants were removed first which revealed the topmost label.

The topmost label once the paper remnants had been removed revealing 36. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa

The topmost label suffered a few small tears during the removal while the lowest remains completely intact.  We cannot disregard this type of information which may assist in research into the provenance of the painting.  The numbers 8 and 36 may correspond with a lot number at a sale or a listing number in the catalogue for an exhibition.

Once the first label was removed, this label was revealed with the number 8. Photograph taken by Melanie Carlisle, 2011. © Te Papa


So no matter how small, information like this is very important and care must be taken to retain it.  It would have been easier to remove these labels in a method which destroyed the information, but if we are doing our job thoroughly it’s not about choosing the easiest methods or getting the fastest result!


  1. fascinating process – thanks for the post.

  2. So glad that you are back!

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