Cleaning a Painting – A discovery process and the “unknown factor”

G.A. Cuomo Fruit Vendors with baby

Fruit Vendors with Baby C. 1880

When I got this Victorian 1880’s oil painting from a friend/client (Thom Gianetto at Edenhurst Gallery) I thought the yellowed varnish would be an easy/quick, safe (for the painting) removal. After 40 years of cleaning paintings, you would think that I could just “eye ball” it… but its better to be humble and ere on the side of caution.

Some people think that cleaning a painting is a per square inch type of estimating and that I should be able to do it over the phone. But to clean an old oil painting safely, we need to do solubility tests with each of the solvents we might use to make sure they dissolve the varnish without dissolving the original paint! Sometimes we use a head-mounted magnifier to get a closer look and sometimes we use a stereobinocular microscope! Varnish qualities vary widely and just when you think it looks “normal” you find that the varnish in question won’t come off with the usual stand bys.

I thought this painting would take about $300 in time and materials to clean but instead, it resisted and took about $1,200.00 in time and materials to clean completely (no yellowed varnish left behind) and safely (no adverse affects on the original paint). So, as you can see, the cleaning process (as are some of the other art conservation treatments) requires, sometimes, a “discovery process.” Most of the time, however, we nail the estimate up front but some of you may be happy to know that the “unknown factor” happens to me too when I work on my artwork.

The “take away” for you from this article is a better knowledge of the estimating and discovery process when cleaning a painting. That may help you to have a better conversation when you talk to an art conservator.

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To see the article on lining and framing this painting, CLICK HERE

Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438

Art and antiques appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate, FACL Appraisals 805 895 5121

Call Thom Gianetto, Edenhurst Gallery 949 376 9222 or go to the gallery website at for Early California Impressionist and Modernist Paintings

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About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
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