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Painting Transforms Into Vibrant Portrait When Centuries Old Varnish Removed in Seconds

We don’t know if the art world has the movie equivalent of a director’s cut, but after watching centuries-old varnish removed from a painting in seconds it just might. Because this restoration unveiling a much more vibrant, beautiful portrait is like watching the artist’s cut of his work.

Art dealer Philip Mould shared videos on Twitter of a simple-looking, but highly sophisticated varnish removal from a 17th century painting. This is the piece in question–a portrait of a 36-year-old woman that was done in 1618–before any of the centuries old protective covering was removed. It had a muddied, yellowed look, like an old newspaper you left in your damp basement for 30 years.

But when the restoration begins, it takes only a few seconds to see the original, colorful painting that was hidden underneath all that old dirty varnish. Cleaning this might look like it’s just a matter of using a cotton swab and some goop, but this type of work is a combination of advanced chemistry and master handiwork.

It’s easy to notice the drastic change in the portrait’s skin tone, but it’s also incredible to see the details from the suddenly bright white part of her dress. Also, make sure to compare the intricacies of her earring to the formless mass it was before.

Mould said he will share a photo from the entire restored painting when it’s done, but it promises to get even better based on the original colors in the dress she was wearing, which takes up most of the painting.

Some artists use varnish for aesthetics reasons, and some use it to protect their paintings from the very dust and dirt that transformed this painting into a muted, flat piece. No matter the reason varnish was ever put on this one, the artist wouldn’t have wanted his portrait to end up as a lifeless form of dull reds and yellows.

Fortunately it just needed a little editing to let us see it the way he meant.

What’s your favorite art restoration? Share your vision with us in the comments below.

Image: Philip Mould

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