Centuries-old varnish disappears from an oil painting in a matter of minutes in two videos of a restoration that are going viral.
British art dealer and historian Philip Mould shared astonishing footage of the partial transformation of a 17th-century piece to Twitter on Monday.
In the clips, a restorer he enlisted for the task uses a brush to apply a solvent gel and then a swab to remove the thick layer of varnish that had been applied to protect the Jacobean-era painting of an unidentified 36-year-old woman in red.
Slowly but surely, the vivid colors of the 1618 work by an artist, also unidentified, begin to shine through.
“Still a way to go, but what a transformation,” wrote Mould, who appears on the BBC’s “Fake or Fortune?” program in which he and other experts seek to discover whether rediscovered works of art are real or bogus.
For comparison, Mould also shared this snap of the painting in its original state:
Mould said the work, which he obtained at an auction in London, was “reminiscent of, although not by” British artist William Larkin, who was a leading portrait painter of the period.
What he found “tantalizing” about the piece was the subject, Mould told HuffPost on Tuesday. “With cleaning, we hope to get more clues in the dress and the jewelry that could be a message as to her identity,” he said, citing a heraldic device in the broach of the woman’s hair as a possible clue.
The complete varnish removal process will take about three weeks. It began with “extensive testing” of the chemical mix of gel and solvent that was needed to remove the existing mastic varnish so that it wouldn’t damage the painting itself, he told the United Kingdom’s Press Association agency.
“The use of gel has developed markedly in recent years,” Mould told The Daily Telegraph. “It’s different from normal restoration, with the gel suspending the solvent and working in a more controllable way.”
Mould told HuffPost that the painting will be “touched in” where there are any minor losses and varnished again.
“What makes the work so special is it’s almost pristine surface in some parts,” he added. “The 200-year-old varnish has protected it from both the elements and the ravages of amateur restorers.”
Some viewers have questioned whether the method used to remove the varnish was representative of accepted conservation techniques. Mould has responded by saying that the restorer had gone to great lengths not to damage the piece. He also invited one critic to “come and see the picture post cleaning.”
Mould promised to post an image of the completed piece “as soon as it is ready.”
Once fully restored, the piece will be put on sale and exhibited at the Masterpiece Fair in London in June 2018.
This article has been updated to add comments from Mould.