Over the years, we have received many wonderful seascape paintings in the studio.

Artworks showing seafarers and sailing boats, large ships and grand battles are frequent and very welcome additions to the studio. They are always particularly pleasing for our conservators to clean and restore, due to the difference that can be achieved in the light sky and the waves cresting the sea.

For one painting we most recently restored, varnish removal and cleaning has made a remarkable difference to the painting – and created one of the most striking halfway progress photographs that we have taken.

Initial assessment

Once we had received the painting into the studio, we carried out another in-depth assessment of the artwork’s condition.

The painting was structurally sound, with no tears or holes. It was suffering from flaking paint and in some areas, paint loss, which would need to be most urgently addressed.

It was also apparent that the varnish layer had perished and had tinged the paint a yellowish hue, which was unsightly and obscuring key details of the painting including the now illegible signature on the bottom left of the painting.

Restoration of the painting

Our priority was to stabilise the paint layer and stop any more flaking paint from becoming loose. Due to the paint layer’s widespread fragility, this would need to be addressed across the whole of the painting.

Japanese tissue is a thin, strong paper made from one of three plants; Kozo, Gampi and Mitsumata. The majority of mending tissues are made from Kozo fibres – they are particularly ideal for use in repairing books and works on paper, although Japanese tissue more generally is used for a variety of conservation applications.

A layer of tissue was first placed over the painting and white spirit and Beva were applied onto the tissue and the back of the painting.

The painting was then gently heated on the lining table allowing the paint layer to successfully consolidate and become secure.

For the tissue to be removed after heating, white spirit was also applied and the tissue was carefully lifted away from the now stable paint layer.

The restoration then continued with the varnish removal to remove the perished yellowed varnish and cleaning to address any trapped dirt and contaminants underneath the varnish layer. After finding the most effective solvent to counteract the varnish, we quickly knew that the results from this stage of the process would be astonishing.

Our client was also delighted to see the remarkable halfway transformation.

After the perished varnish and dirt were removed, the signature was then visible again.

After the cleaning was complete, we could turn our attention to retouching the painting where there had been numerous losses.

Before we could begin the process, we first applied a filler to the oil painting over the exposed areas of canvas. The pigment matching was then carried out to ensure the retouching provided a subtle and uniform finish.

The final step of the restoration was to re-varnish to provide a protective and lasting finish for the painting.

With the restoration complete, the full striking difference between how the painting looked when it first arrived in the studio to how it looks once restored can be fully appreciated.

Despite the turbulent sea and cloudy sky of the painting, it’s smooth sailing ahead for the painting now it has been returned home.

We were delighted to hear again from our client, and of their happiness at having the painting so carefully restored and the wonderful difference that the restoration has achieved, along with a photograph of the painting back in its rightful place – a fantastic way to round off an enjoyable and challenging conservation project.

If you have a similar painting requiring a clean or restoration, please contact us for our advice and recommendations.