Friday, September 9, 2011

Cleaning An Original Oil Painting!

If you have oil paintings in your home, whether they're historic and valuable or just a souvenir from a street painter in Paris, you'll want to keep them clean.

But if you're employed by the rich, as I happen to be, then taking care of their art work is part of the job - in fact your job is at stake! We have responsibilities both to our employers and to the art works as well. If you can bear with me, there's two categories I want to address tonight:

Restoration: As house staff, this is something we do not do! Any yellowing of the varnish, any flaking or tears in the canvas - these problems must be sent to a professional Conservator for resolution. Beware, there are many dangerous do-it-yourself websites for art restoration. But are you really willing as a novice to risk destroying a half-million dollar painting and losing your job? No! Simply tell your employer that it's beyond your expertise and take it straight out to a Conservator. 

Most rich people would agree with this without hesitation. But I know of a situation where a famous lady stumbled and smashed her fragile martini glass into an original Alexander Calder, leaving a one-inch slash in the canvas. Hysterical at the time, and her equally-famous host, the owner of the painting, told his butler the next day to just put some Super Glue on the tear. Can you imagine? How rich and nonchalant can you be? (And so much for Calder, who I don't care for anyway.)  

Art Maintenance: Now this is something we can all do, whether your original oil is a paint-by-numbers gift from a life-long friend or an original Dutch Master. Here's the problem we facedust and contaminates (like finger prints) can cause damage, perhaps even a fungus on the canvas. And pollen in the air can cause yellowing. So all we really need to do is keep the art work dusted. It's that simple. But we have to use the proper tools and here are two of the best:

Female Ostrich Feather Dusters: Ostrich dusters are all over the place, but ones made with female feathers are very hard to find. They attract dust like a magnet and are very gentle on the artist's brush strokes in the painting. I found this one helpful website, and here's the link. It's from But you have to scroll down to "Pop-up Feather Duster" where it says "made with all natural mature soft grey-brown female ostrich feathers". As I said, really hard to find. But if you can't, then a regular ostrich duster (male feathers) is better than none.

Sable Brushes: The ultimate in soft brushes. Easy to find, available in any art store. Made from tail hairs of a sable marten.  Like female ostrich feathers, these are great for dusting deep into the artist's brush strokes, especially if it's an abstract piece done with a Palette knife. These brushes can clean deep into those globs of paint. 

BUT HERE'S A WARNING!  These feather dusters and brushes must be labeled and kept separate from all other dusters. Why? Well, what if there's a beautiful figurine on a coffee table that people pick up and look at? If you dust this with your sable brush, then you could contaminate the brush and transfer human skin oil from the figurine to an original oil canvas. Remember all those signs in the museums, "Do Not Touch"? There's the reason. Skin oil is full of destructive contaminates.

This has been way too long, but I hope it's been helpful.   

There are of course issues about keeping oil paintings in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, about protecting them from sunlight, and about the proper ways to light a painting. But that would have to be another topic altogether in some future post. 

Before going, I would like to say that one of my favorite things in this job is to prance around with a feather duster and accidentally overhear conversations among the high and mighty, while pretending to dust a Rembrandt. You can't imagine how much fun that is!

Thanks for dropping in,



  1. Thanks Andrew for all the helpful tips ! LOL I bet you do hear alot that way soooo do tell ........

  2. I wish I could do a tell-all book like the guys in Washington that leave their jobs at the White House. Ha!

    But right now there are confidentiality agreements involved, so I must be always on guard about how much I say, and about whom. Ha!

    Thanks for reading,

  3. Andrew, you just made my day! I'm new in my position as Executive Housekeeper, and the home where I work is full of oil piantings. Thank you SO MUCH for this information!!!

  4. No, you just made MY day!

    Ha! So glad I could be of help!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!