Preservation of the Wm. Thomson Freeland Panoramas - Treatment - Title Banner


Removing the Varnish


Both of the Freeland panoramas had a very yellowed surface coating. The yellowed varnish and entrapped dirt on the Freeland images contributed to their lack of sharpness and overall drab appearance. When the frames were removed it was discovered that covered areas of the prints had not been varnished, indicating that the varnish was applied after the panoramas had been mounted and framed.

Photo: Conservator removes varnish from one of the Freeland panoramas
Conservator removes varnish from
one of the Freeland panoramas.

There was a marked contrast between the appearance of the main face of the photograph and the areas that had been hidden. The unvarnished areas appeared cool and greyish in contrast to the yellowed tone of the rest of the image, and also exhibited a greater tonal range and image sharpness.

In fact, in almost every way, the unvarnished areas of the print looked dramatically better. As a result, the decision was made to do some tests to see if the varnish could be safely removed. Those tests revealed that the varnish could be removed with acetone.

The decision was made to proceed with varnish removal.

Photo: Conservator removes varnish from one of the Freeland panoramas.

After solvent testing, careful and gentle varnish removal commenced. The conservators wore respirator masks with appropriate filters, latex gloves and lab coats to protect themselves from the vapours emitted by the acetone.

Conservator removes varnish from one of the
Freeland panoramas.

Photo: Two conservators work across the table from each other removing varnish from one of the winter panorama
Two conservators work across the table from each other removing
varnish from the winter panorama.

Photo: Enlargement of area where varnish has been removed from the winter panorama.
Enlargement of area where varnish has been removed from the winter panorama.

The results of the cleaning were dramatic. Niagara Falls in the early twentieth century came alive as the swabs, cotton balls and brushes worked their way across the nearly six metre long print. The image was much sharper and richer than when it was first discovered. With the exception of some damaged areas and some areas of loss where the risk of further damage was too great, almost all of the vanish was safely removed.

Photo: Area of the winter panorama showing progress of varnish removal.
Area of the winter panorama showing progress of varnish removal.