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Want to clean gilded frame on large painting in our church. Is mostly darkened from smoke of candles. Thank you for suggestions.

Hello Rene,

I hope you are doing well and thank you for your question about cleaning a gilded frame. My recommendation is to not attempt this for the following reasons:

1.   Cleaning the frame will most likely require you remove the painting from the wall. Any handling of the framed painting exposes it to possible damage and great care must be made not to prevent bumping or scraping.
2.   The gilding on the frame is very delicate and even the process of brushing off dirt can cause abrasion to the finish.

The gilding on your frame was most likely done by gold leaf; a very thin layer of gold that is applied to the surface of the wood and then burnished. It is very delicate and can be easily damaged.

Ideally it should be handled by a conservator,or just left alone until you can secure a professional. But if this is not an option I recommend the following:

Firstly, use soft cotton gloves when handling the art. Start by removing the dust from the surface using a very soft bristle brush, such as a sable artist's brush. Use short gentle strokes and go with the grain, if visible, and AWAY from the painting. You should cover the metal ferrule of the brush with masking tape to prevent any accidental scraping of the wood while cleaning.

After loosening the dirt from the surface, you can use a vacuum set on minimal suction with a small nozzle covered with gauze and secured with a rubber band, (if the frame has excessive dust, you may want to vacuum before using the brush as well).

As to the cleaning of the candle smoke; I recommend not using anything stronger than a mild liquid dishwashing soap in warm water. Use a very soft cloth, similar to the cloth used for cleaning fine jewelry. Depending on the intricacy of the carving, you may need to use a q-tip in crevices.

Clean small areas at a time with care not to exert too much pressure on the surface that may cause removal of the gilding. Immediately wipe with another clean soft cloth and then go to the next area.

If this method does not remove the smoke grime, then I suggest you definitely find a conservator as use of other cleaning products could severely damage your frame, and possibly your painting if it should be affected.

I hope this information is helpful. If you need assistance finding a conservator in your area, please feel free to email me and I will try to locate one for you.

Best regards,

Fine Art

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Dolly D Headley


I can assist with identification, acquisition, sell representation, and care of fine art prints and original paintings. Some of my artist specialties include Henri Toulouse Lautrec, California Artists, and the Modern Masters. I can also assist with information on getting professional appraisals and authentication.


Dolly D. Headley, owner of Headley Fine Art, LLC, has provided consultative art services to retail gallery clients in Sausalito, CA, and at since 1998. With over 14 years experience as a Senior Art Consultant, Gallery Director, and an extensive art research library; Ms. Headley has provided hundreds of people with her high quality personalized consultation services and solid guarantee of satisfaction. Dolly is a volunteer at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

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