We were recently asked to visit a client who had discovered a painting in a garage roof space to see if it was worth cleaning and restoring!
The house and its garage were in an advanced state of decay and the painting must have been left in the roof space when, many years earlier, a makeshift ceiling was installed in one part of the garage roof.
It soon became clear that the picture had been a depository for all kinds of waste and there was evidence of birds having been regular tenants in the roof space, roosting above the picture. To remove it was the first task and once prised out of its frame all the loose dirt and rubbish which had been deposited on it was removed with an industrial vacuum cleaner.
It was only when the picture was lying flat on the garage floor that we realised it was so dirty that it was impossible to discern the subject matter. Once removed to the studio and surveyed under different inspection lamps it was obvious that this was no ordinary cleaning job. All our test swabs lifted a black greasy residue from the surface that chemical analysis determined to be layers of oil and exhaust fumes which had been deposited over many years of car repair and maintenance in the garage.
We have always known that our skills are founded in scientific knowledge but it took nearly three weeks for us to mix a dry chemical powder which would absorb the deposits from the picture surface without damaging it. To wet the surface with any solution would have risked losing the picture in a moment
We joked about a local farmer who years previously had rejected a quotation from us for cleaning his picture as ‘preposterous’, only to return a week or so later having used petrol to wash the dirt off. He only stopped when half of it had disappeared on the old rag he used to wipe it clean.
We have been working painstakingly on our most recent challenge for three weeks. We are certain now that we are revealing an 18th Century Dutch landscape. Work will continue for at least another six to ten weeks and then, and only then, will we be able to give an informed opinion about the quality of the painting and attribution of the artist who painted it.
As the restoration proceeds we will determine whether this large painting warrants the time and cost of relining, but at this moment in time we all feel that all the skill and effort to date have been and will be worth it. One day soon it will be admired again for what it is and keep its dirty past a secret.