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Fine Art/cleaning painting


  I recently purchased an old portrait of a man dressed in the 17th cent style.  The painting was very dirty.  But the main thing was that it was very dark.  I heard that spit and Qtips can clean it up and I was surprised at the soot that came off the painting.  It looks l00% better.  But the painting is still dark.  Can you tell me if old portraits were just painted very dark or did something happen to the painting over the years?

Dear Don, Beginning with 17th century Dutch and Spanish artists palettes became less colorful. It became universal to paint (especially portraits) with a somewhat monochromatic palette of browns, grays, and black. This characteristic finally ended with the Munich school in the late 19th century. This may be one reason for the darkness of your painting. Also your painting probably has a layer or more of varnish or shellac which becomes darker over the years (this is reversable and can be cleaned off by a painting conservator). The third cause of darkened paintings was the popularity of adding bitumen to the paint pigments. This darkens and hardens like asphalt and cannot be reversed. If you feel your painting has merit to it, you should take it to a painting conservator. Usually they do not charge to examine your painting and tell what can be done to improve it. Best not to clean it with spit, Top Job, or the urine from ten white horses.
Cordially, Dan

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Daniel A. Hynes


Collecting, buying, selling, identifying, and caring for paintings, drawings,and watercolors (19th and early 20th century American and European). No prints, contemporary art, or works executed after 1940.


35 years as a fine art dealer, including 3 years as a gallery director. Also was art expert for Leslie Hindman's Auctioneers, and for Dunning's Auction.

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