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Full steam ahead for the Museum of Liverpool

23 April 2010 by Sam

painting during conservation, with yellow varnish over one side

‘RMS Oropesa’ by Arthur Burgess during conservation treatment

Paintings conservator Beth Courtney sent me this great picture showing the incredible transformation of one of the paintings in her care. I’ll let her explain:


“‘RMS Oropesa’ by Arthur Burgess came into the paintings studio to be conserved before going on display in the new Museum of Liverpool. The reason it needed treating was obvious: it was covered in an extremely discoloured varnish that was distorting the appearance of the colours.

Our eyes and brains work together to make sense of things and often a slightly yellow varnish doesn’t make much difference to how we perceive the relationships between colours so we can still tell which areas are white, blue or green. But when a varnish becomes very discoloured our brains can’t remove enough yellow to compensate for the discolouration. Although we know that sky is probably a shade of blue, it becomes difficult to tell whether it ought to be bright or stormy.

As I carefully removed the varnish the true colours were revealed and the dark, orange painting gave way to a light, blue-grey toned scene. Even as a conservator and knowing how much difference removing an old varnish can make, the dramatic transformation of this painting was a bit of a surprise!”

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