ReNewell, Inc. Fine Art Conservation

Oil Paintings

Treatments for oil paintings may include surface grime and varnish removal, local consolidation and repair, or full structural stabilization involving appropriate lining techniques.

Surface grime is an accumulation of airborne pollutants.

William Aiken Walker (1839-1921). Cabin Scene. Oil on academy board. Private collection.

Discolored varnish is gradual oxidation and darkening.

Mid 19th century portrait, artist unknown. Oil on panel. Private collection.

Lee MacComb. Landscape (1903). Oil on canvas. Private collection.
Cracking manifests in two types: drying cracks, which are cracks in the paint layer caused by gradual drying; and aging cracks, cracks which run through all layers of the painting (from the support to the paint).

Mid 19th century portrait, artist unknown. Oil on panel. Private collection.

Structural damage is the result of mishandling or natural aging. There are a wide variety of treatments for structural damage.

G. Victcosky, R.A. Bubble Boy (ca. 1875). Oil on canvas. Private collection.

Works on Paper

Treatments for works on paper may include non-aqueous treatments such as surface grime removal and unmounting, and/or more complicated aqueous and solvent treatments such as tape stain removal, pulping loss, and stain reduction.

Discoloration can be caused by a number of factors, including oxidation, acidic paper, and surface grime.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Untitled. Charcoal. Private collection.

Mold and staining can result from heat and humidity. Successful treatment depends on the type of mold.

Michael Brodeur (b. 1947). Styrofoam as Metaphor: Tower. Graphite. Private collection.

Foxing is the term for reddish-brown spots caused by either fungal activity, metal-induced degradation, or both.

Anna Heyward Taylor (1879-1956). The Skimmer. Linoleum-block print. Private collection.

This improperly framed watercolor has developed damage from both mold growth and foxing.

Gilmer Petroff. Untitled (1961). Watercolor. Private collection.

Mat burn is caused by the migration of acid from acidic matting materials.

Alfred Hutty (1877-1954). The Gossips. Drypoint. Private colleciton.

Tape/adhesive stains are formed when adhesives, be they glues or tapes, stay in contact with the paper for an extended period of time.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Untitled. Charcoal. Private collection.

Water stains result from broken pipes, flooding, or other kinds of water damage, leaving tide lines.

Estelan Vicente (1903-2001). From Five Lithographs. Lithograph. Private collection.

If you notice any such damages, do not attempt to fix them yourself! The task of restoration should be left to a professional, but there are basic steps you can take to conserve your art:
  • Maintain a stable environment of 60-70 degrees and relative humidity of 45-60 percent.
  • Keep art out of drafts and away from AC/heating vents and open fireplaces.
  • Keep art out of exposure to direct light, whether artificial or natural.
  • Never hang pieces on damp walls.
  • Never store pieces in garages or in attics.
  • Have works on paper hinged and matted with acid-free materials.
  • Consult a conservator about deacidification of valuable paper art.

Click here to see examples of the restoration process.

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