The second step in the conservation process is to remove the paintings from their frames and give them a good clean to remove surface dirt (the frames will be cleaned separately later).
All of the fixings holding the painting into the frame are removed carefully, in order to avoid damaging the canvas, the frame, and any information (stickers, labels, etc.) that might be attached to the back of the painting, as these can give us clues to its history.
Once you’ve taken a painting out of its frame, you can see how dirty it really is, especially on the back (where it rarely gets cleaned).
First, the backs of the paintings are cleaned with a museum-grade vacuum, a soft brush, a feather, and smoke sponges (a special kind of dry rubber sponge for gentle cleaning).
It’s important to remove all loose dirt and soiling from the back of the painting before cleaning the front, as the water used in cleaning the paint surface can dissolve the loose dirt and cause it to soak into the canvas.
The fronts of the paintings are then cleaned with distilled water and cotton swabs, in order to remove as much of the surface dirt as possible before the next major step, which is the removal of the old varnish.
(Clockwise from top left) The old paper tape being carefully cut with a scalpel.
Several layers of paper tape being removed with a scalpel and a swab moistened with distilled water – any labels or inscriptions found on the layers of tape are photographed before removal
The back of the painting part-way through removal of the tape, showing inscriptions and labels exposed during the removal process; The back of the painting after all of the old paper tape has been removed.