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Old 02-28-2012, 10:18 AM
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Rejuvenating old Painting

I have been asked to look at a 1920's oil on canvas mural to see if it can be touched up around some water stains and I'm sure just old/yellowed paint. Cracking paint would be another problem... I have yet to see it.

Is there any advice of what to look for and what I might try? This is a small town museum and money is not available for trained curators.
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:37 AM
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Re: Rejuvenating old Painting

Try asking at the forum on AMIEN.org - http://www.amien.org/

Wear a flameproof suit and avoid mentioning 'museum' and 'money not available.'

The old/yellowed paint might be varnish. You can hope that the mural was varnished with an art-friendly varnish and that nobody since 1920 has covered it with conventional varnishes.

Art-friendly: removable with alcohol or (genuine) turpentine... only be sure the latter does not remove pigment. Try alcohol first -- shellac thinner grade ethanol, not isopropanol.

If the canvas has been uniformly adhered to the wall, you might have no cracking to speak of, assuming the wall itself is still sound and not cracked.

Some public-commissioned murals of this era are true art treasures. Please, research the artist and the commission as deeply as possible. It probably made the local papers when it was unveiled. If this is a treasure, I'd leave it alone and urge the museum to do fund-raising for a professional conservator.

Being terminally cheap myself, I'd cozy up to any and all art museums in Houston and see if there's anyone friendly enough to give you free advice. I've gotten incredibly good information from contacts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, even though they (the conservators and curators) are underfunded and time-constrained.

As always in a highly-technical field, you may be rebuffed sharply by those who suffer no fools, but just set them aside and look for more human sources.
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Old 03-02-2012, 11:43 PM
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Re: Rejuvenating old Painting

I appreciate the advice.

The mural is on a canvas glued in some manner to a masonry wall. It is about 6 ft by 8 feet. I was wrong about the dates. It was painted in 1950 by a college professor who is in his 90's now. Moisture has caused water runs down each end of the work. At the tops are the most damage but not excessive. The plaster had caused some lightening. I used the suggested alcohol application with a soft brush. The process did not affect the paint but there was a light bleaching effect in the vertical runs. Light blue sky, the greens, and burnt sienna water areas were the most noticeable. When the solvent application appeared to crack paint.... small chips, I stopped.

I went ahead and applied some paint in the worst spots. I used a little linseed solvent to minimize the brush "drag".

I was happy with the result and the piece which was originally done for a bank lives on as a local museum. They could never have afforded a conservator and it continues to present a collage of history. The first two pictures are before and the last two are after. The biggest improvement was the boat stacks and the green between them and the grey smoke.

I recommended trying to prevent the moisture and applying artist's varnish in a couple of months. I could not tell if varnish had been used before.
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Old 03-03-2012, 05:58 AM
DaveGhmn DaveGhmn is online now
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Re: Rejuvenating old Painting

Oogs - alcohol caused the paint to crack?

Were you able to talk with the artist? Any idea if he had mixed shellac or other alcohol-miscible varnish with his paint?

In any case, you've done a gutsy thing, and congratulations.
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Old 03-03-2012, 09:46 PM
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Re: Rejuvenating old Painting

The alcohol did not cause the paint to crack. What I meant to say was that when the brushing caused some pieces to crack, I stopped.

I may have been lucky. It seemed to go pretty well.

It would have been sad to have left the painting in such a bad state.
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