Watch as 200 Years of Varnish Is Wiped Away From a 17th Century Oil Painting

Art Restoration Varnish Removal Philip Mould

Art dealer, author, and BBC presenter Philip Mould makes the painstaking process of art restoration look easy with his hypnotic set of Twitter videos documenting the restoration of a 17th-century painting. Working with quick precision, it's magical to watch as he wipes away centuries of dirt and grime, revealing the gleaming oil paint beneath the yellowed surface.

We don't know much about the painting itself, other than it's from 1618 and that the mysterious “lady in red” was 36-years-old at the time of the portrait. In the video clips, Mould is stripping the protective varnish that is applied to shield paintings from wear, but that often yellows over time. This particular painting's varnish dates back 200 years. And while it's not uncommon for restorers to strip and reseal paintings to return them to their original colors, one only need to remember the botched restoration of a painting in Spain—which turned a portrait of Jesus into a monkey—to realize that this work takes skill.

It's unclear what chemicals Mould uses in his videos, though turpentine is often used along with other solvents to ensure the agent doesn't eat through the painting. Adept restorers are a mix of art historians and chemists, examining a painting closely to determine the type of varnish and what agent will work best to dissolve it. Using test patches, they will see which chemicals work best to melt the yellowed layers of varnish, releasing the clear, brilliant colors below.

While we anxiously await the final results of Mould's work, take a look at the painting prior to restoration and more clips of his brilliant work as he brings the 17th-century artwork back to life.

BBC presenter Philip Mould is capturing the remarkable transformation of a 17th-century painting as it undergoes restoration to remove its yellowed varnish.

After his first video was a hit, Mould has continued to document the painting's transformation via Twitter.

Brilliant colors and hidden details that could be used to help identify the “lady in red” continue to emerge—like these small details on her dress—as the painting restoration moves forward.

A look at the painting prior to cleaning shows just how muddied the colors looked under the 200-year-old varnish.

Philip Mould: Website | Facebook | InstagramTwitter
h/t: [Sploid]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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