Our Restoration Process

When our paintings first arrive from Russia, some of them, especially the older ones, are dirty and sometimes damaged from years of lying around in stacks in the artists’ studios, traveling to shows around Russia, or hanging in various public buildings. We clean and restore these paintings.

Cleaning

The cleaning of dirty paintings is probably the most painstaking of all the steps of the restoration process.

Removing old varnish

The painting to be cleaned must first be stripped of any old varnish that has yellowed on it, and this involves a compound of chemicals that will soften and remove the old varnish while not harming the painting. Usually if there is old varnish on the painting, once we remove it, the painting is clean, because varnish protects the painting from dirt.

Cleaning the painting surface

If the painting was never varnished, the painting may pick up dust, grime and fly specks (small black dots that are literally excrement left by flies on any surfaces - they are not noticeable on most surfaces except by close inspection) over time. To remove the dirt from the surface of the painting, we use a different compound of chemicals: again, strong enough to remove the dirt but gentle enough not to disturb the paint itself. The chemicals are applied to the surface of the painting with a cotton swab, and then removed using a fresh swab. This process is repeated until the area is clean. We strategically clean our paintings one small section at a time, concentrating on getting one small area completely clean before moving to the next area.

Restoration

After restorationAfter restoration
Detail of a painting before restorationDetail of a painting before restoration

Some paintings we import from Russia have been extremely well taken care of. Others, unfortunately, have not. In this case, sometimes restoration is necessary. The restoration process can involve any of the following steps:

  • patching holes or tears
  • patching a small area to stabilize cracking or flaking paint
  • lining an entire canvas
  • re-stretching
  • in-painting
  • varnishing

Patching holes or tears

We place the painting face-down on a flat, hard, smooth surface. Since most of our paintings are on linen canvas rather than cotton (linen, a flax product, is much more readily available in Russia than cotton), we cut a piece of new linen that, when placed over the back of the damaged area, extends a few inches in each direction out from the hole or tear. (We fray the edges of the patch to prevent the shape of the patch from showing on the front of the canvas.) A wax-resin compound is melted and poured over the back of the patch, then gently ironed through the patch and into the original canvas to secure the patch in place. A weight is placed over the patched area and left to cool. Once the painting is patched, we clean any excess wax that has soaked through the hole to the front of the painting using a compound of chemicals specially made for removing wax.

Patching a small area of the painting to stabilize cracking or flaking paint

If a painting has a just a small area that is cracking or flaking, we use the same process as the one for patching holes or tears. This time, instead of providing a new backing for a hole, the patch and wax-resin compound act as a stabilizer for the cracking paint. The melted wax soaks through the new patch and old canvas right though to the paint, which, as the wax cools, adheres back to the canvas and becomes stable.

Lining an entire canvas

Lining a canvas is the backing of an old painting with a new canvas. A painting is lined if there is damage in too many places to warrant patching, or if there is cracking paint throughout. A piece of canvas larger than the original painting is stretched on stretcher bars that are also larger than the painting. The new painting is placed face-down on a flat surface with the new, stretched canvas face-down on top of it. The wax-resin is poured on the back, ironed through, weighted down, and left to cool. When the wax is cool, the painting is entirely adhered to a new canvas and completely stable. Any excess wax is cleaned off the front, and the new canvas is ready to be stretched on bars that fit the size of the original painting.

Re-stretching a painting

Corner of the back of a stretcher bar with connecting pinsCorner of the back of a stretcher bar with connecting pins

We use museum-quality stretcher bars, with adjustable stainless steel pins in each corner and at any cross-bracing, to make keying out possible. (Keying a painting out basically means tightening it up. The pins, when adjusted, actually push the stretcher bars apart at the corners, tightening the painting. Factors like heat and humidity will make a painting become loose on its stretcher bars over time, and with this adjustable pin system, you can just key the painting out rather than re-stretching it.) We put cross-bracing on all stretcher bars for larger paintings to keep the stretcher bars from warping.

In-painting

Heather in-painting on a damaged paintingHeather in-painting on a damaged painting

We in-paint only when absolutely necessary to preserve the artists’ original paint. However, sometimes in older works paint is missing where it has flaked or where there is a hole in the canvas. In these cases new paint must be added. We match the color and apply the new paint, matching the direction and texture of the original brush strokes. In case of thicker paint or a patched hole, we first apply a special putty, sanding it down to the level of the original paint before adding new paint.

Varnishing

After the new paint is completely dry (this can take up to six months or a year) we varnish the painting with non-yellowing, archivable acrylic varnish to protect it from dirt.