Painting Restoration

“I am absolutely thrilled with the painting thank you! I am loving having it back. Thank you so much to you and your team for all your work and kindness, which is much appreciated”

– Jane R, Private Collector and Hiscox policyholder

painting restoration in the plowden & smith painting restoration studio

“May I say, once again, how thrilled I am with the painting and frame – many, many thanks for turning my personal catastrophe into such a delight!”

– Angela, Private Collector

Our painting restoration department carries out surface and structural restoration to a wide range of paintings. As with all our treatments, painting restoration work is preceded by a consultation and collectors rely on our impartial advice about the potential short and long term implications of treatment, informed by our knowledge of art market conditions.

All our painting restoration treatments are created around the material composition of each painting, a scientific approach that achieves outstanding results without having to resort to aggressive or unsympathetic techniques.

We correct age-related disintegration and damage, for example removing overpaint and historic restoration, relining canvases and stabilising flaking paint. We also fill and retouch paint loss, and remove discoloured varnish, replacing it with a modern conservation-grade equivalent.

Our painting restoration department restores artworks that have suffered accidental damage, been displayed or stored in incorrect atmospheric conditions, as well as paintings that have been devastated by fire or flood.

Painting Restoration Case Studies

Sir John Glanville – 17th Century Oil Painting Restoration

Painted by an unknown artist, this 17th Century oil on panel painting depicts Sir John Glanville the younger (1586 – 1661), an English barrister and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1614 and 1644. The painting forms part of The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn’s impressive art collection.

The portrait came into our painting restoration studio with numerous discoloured fills, retouching and yellowing varnish; all of which were visibly detracting from the painting.

When our painting restoration team initially examined the work, they discovered that the oil painting appeared to have been extended, presumably as part of an historic painting restoration treatment. They also noted that the painting had a cradle support on the back, believed by our painting restoration team to have been added during the 19th Century.

Our Painting Restoration team started by removing particulate dirt from the front and back of the panel painting and consolidating any flaking paint. They then surface cleaned the painting using an enzyme solution.

Following tests to establish the optimum method, the yellowed varnish was removed, along with the majority of the aged and discoloured retouching. More tenacious retouching was removed using IMS. This revealed to our painting restoration team that a lot of the original paintwork had been painted over. As this original paint was in good condition, our painting restoration team opted against replacing the retouching.

Our painting restoration team begun the process of retouching by applying a varnish to the original painted surface. This provides a barrier between the artist’s paint and our retouching work, ensuring that our restoration is non-invasive and reversible. Once the varnish had dried, our painting restoration team then retouched losses across the whole of the painting. Overall, more than ten different pigments were used in combination with aldehyde resin to match the gloss of the original painted surface.

Finally, our painting restoration team applied a spray varnish to saturate the painting and achieve an appropriate level of gloss finish.

19th Century Family Portrait Painting Restoration

“I asked Plowden & Smith to advise on the restoration work that might need to be done on a family painting that I have recently acquired. They gave me detailed advice and then undertook the restoration work. Their conservator who did the work spent time with me and my wife after doing the work, explaining in detail what had been done and answering various questions about the painting and the techniques involved in doing the restoration work. The painting now looks transformed and it is a great pleasure to have it hanging on one of our walls.” 

– Geoffrey, Private Collector

This family portrait dates from the mid-19th Century. Its current owner asked our painting restoration department to revive the appearance of their much-loved painting and help ensure its preservation for future generations.

After carefully assessing the artwork, our painting restoration team concluded that the painting was structurally sound; however, its appearance would be improved by removing and replacing the aged, discoloured varnish.

Preliminary tests revealed that the individual layers of the old varnish had different levels of solubility, meaning that each layer of varnish had to be removed one at a time.

In two places on the painting (the blue of the boy’s dress and the red curtains); the solubility of the original paint and the insolubility of the varnish meant that some varnish residue had to be left behind; a scenario that highlights the sort of unexpected challenges conservators may encounter during treatment, and the sort of choices they may make to achieve the overall best outcome.

After surface cleaning the painting and retouching any areas of loss, our painting restorer applied a conservation grade varnish with UV-protection characteristics; and the painting was returned to its original frame.

Small Oil on Canvas Painting Restoration

This small oil on canvas of a country churchyard came into our painting restoration studio with two punctures, an abrasion and some warping towards the centre of the painting.

The first stage of restoring the painting was to dust the back and front of the painting, using a small hoover to catch disturbed particles; and to dry clean the back and front of the painting. Discreet wet cleaning tests were then carried out to establish the optimum method of removing ingrained dirt and grime.

After flattening a prominent bulge in the painting, testing was then carried out by our painting restoration team to find the best solution for removing, or failing that, thinning the aged, discoloured varnish.

Once a method settled upon, and the old varnish removed; the colours in the painting immediately appeared brighter.

Our painting restoration team consolidated areas around the punctures and restored and filled the two holes to create a more uniform surface. Texture was added to the fills to ensure a seamless blend with rest of the canvas and then they were carefully retouched with watercolours.

Once the watercolour retouching was complete, the first coat of varnish was applied. Once this was dry, the painting was retouched using restoration paints. A final layer of varnish was sprayed on the painting; and the painting returned to its frame, which had also undergone treatment in our studio.

The owner of the painting was delighted with the transformation, writing: “May I say, once again, how thrilled I am with the painting and frame – many many thanks to Phoenix for turning my personal catastrophe into such a delight!”

Mural Painting Restoration 

One particularly interesting painting restoration project of ours was carried out on behalf of Westminster City Council and involved the comprehensive restoration of two 1950s murals advertising BP Energol and Regent Remoulds (both car servicing companies).

These two 1950s BP Energol and Regent Remoulds advertising murals are located at the entrance of a multi-storey carpark on Poland Street, Soho. Since the late 2000s, both murals had been gradually covered over by different graffiti tags and throw-ups. By the beginning of 2021, the repetitive act of graffitiing over the murals finally led to the surfaces being completely overpainted with a thick layer of industrial household emulsion paint.

After reviewing pictures of the exposed murals, eight areas for graffiti removal testing were chosen by our painting restoration team to help them establish the optimum method for removing both the layer of white household emulsion overpaint and the graffiti.

Following rigorous testing, the white overpaint and graffiti were successfully removed using mechanical techniques, combined with solvent based solutions to soften paint areas and remove paint residues.

After the overpaint was removed, the now-revealed original murals were carefully surface cleaned to remove any residual dirt and historic soiling. Consolidation of structural issues encountered during the cleaning process, was carried out using emulsion-based adhesives.

Finally, a sacrificial protective wax layer was applied to the paint surface to ensure that any future graffiti could be easily removed without undue risk of the murals themselves being damaged.

17th Century Portrait Painting Restoration 

17th century oil painting before painting restoration treatment at Plowden & Smith
17th century oil painting after painting restoration treatment at Plowden & Smith

This 17th Century John Riley (1646 – 1691) oil painting of Sarah, Viscountess Castleton came into our studios for painting restoration treatment after the team at Valence House Museum observed paint lifting from the canvas.

After examining the painting under UV light, our painting restoration team concluded that the flaking in the paint was a long-term issue.

Our painting restoration team also noted that the painting’s original canvas had been previously relined and restored, and whilst this previous relining had preserved the tacking edges in places, the original canvas was now highly oxidised and brittle. These previous painting restoration treatments had focused on removing the yellowing varnish covering the sitter, meaning that by the time the work came into our painting restoration studio, the background depicted in the painting was concealed by a thick oxidised black layer.

Once our painting restoration team had removed the surface dirt, trials were conducted to find the optimal method of varnish removal. Removing the aged, discoloured varnish revealed a number of details about the painting, including trees and shrubs in the landscape and establishing that the flowers held by the sitter were roses, not chrysanthemums, as previously recorded.
Once clean, the canvas was de-lined before being relined, reusing the replacement stretcher from the previous restoration.

Our painting restoration team then applied an isolating varnish to the canvas, and filled and retouched any losses to the paint using a bespoke varnish, mixed with pigments. A final varnish was then applied by both brush and spray to even the surface coating.

Once dry, the painting was reframed behind non-reflective museum glass and returned to its newly restored frame that had received treatment in our Decorative Arts studio.

19th Century Oil Portrait Painting Restoration 

oil painting before painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting before painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting after painting restoration by Plowden & Smith

Prideaux Place in North Cornwall, is an historic house used in the filming of the Poldark TV series. 

A house flood caused by an escape of water led to a number of historic family paintings and their impressive gilded frames sustaining significant damage.

These paintings subsequently came into our painting restoration studio for a complete programme of treatment. The paintings were surface cleaned and relined to stabilise the flaking paint. Pint losses were filled and retouched and a conservation-grade varnish applied to further improve the appearance of the painting and to help protect the painting from further damage.

The painting’s gilt frame also required some restoration work, including recreating missing sections of gilded gesso detailing. To see how we restored the gilt frame, please visit our Picture Framing page.

Surface Cleaning an Oil Painting

Accumulative dirt is carefully removed from the surface of this oil painting, as a first stage of the cleaning process. After all the surface dirt is removed, discreet patch tests will be carried out to establish the correct combination and concentration of solvents to remove traces of discoloured varnish without disturbing the pigments. At this stage, any detached flakes of paint can be reattached, or if these fragments are missing, these losses toned in.

Slashed Painting Restoration

oil painting before painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting during painting restoration by Plowden & Smith

Paintings are sometimes inadvertently slashed when being unwrapped with a knife to remove protective packaging.

To restore this oil on canvas; our painting restoration team used a thread-by-thread tear-mending technique known as reweaving. This resulted in a strong local repair and avoided the need to reline the entire canvas. The damaged area was then filled and retouched to reintegrate the repair into the surrounding paint.

Family Portrait Oil Painting Restoration

oil painting before painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting before painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting after painting restoration by Plowden & Smith
oil painting after painting restoration by Plowden & Smith

This much-loved family portrait had suffered as a result of being in a house fire. In addition to soot deposits, the painting was subjected to water damage, and at first glance, the painting appeared to be unsalvageable. 

Following tests in our painting restoration studio, it was discovered that the damage had only permeated as far as the layer of varnish, which is applied as a sacrificial coating to the surface of the painting to protect it. 

The blanched varnish was painstakingly removed, and our painting restoration team then cleaned and re-varnished the painting to protect the family portrait for future generations.

Painting Restoration Frequently Asked Questions

Why have a painting restored?

Painting restoration is intended to repair and preserve the aesthetic and structural integrity of a work of art, supporting its ability to be visually enjoyed and interpreted, its longevity as an organic object, and also its market value.
In some instances, you only have to look at a painting to see that it would be visually improved by restoration. Perhaps the canvas is torn, the paint deeply scratched or stained, or perhaps there are even flakes of paint missing from the canvas. 
However, there are other reasons why a painting in seemingly good condition might require professional painting restoration treatment, and these reasons are often linked to the natural aging process that affects all organic materials, which includes paintings.
Organic materials have a natural lifespan, therefore as soon as a painting is made it begins to age. The owner of a painting can do much in the way they display and care for their artwork to delay this natural aging process, for instance in their choice of frame and positioning the painting away from direct heat and UV light. However, even if a painting is well cared for, over time it will still experience the effects of natural aging and the best way of delaying this natural aging process is to draw on the skill of a specialist painting restoration studio.
The role of a painting restorer is therefore two-fold: to revive the appearance of a painting that has very obvious signs of wear or damage and also to slow the natural aging process of a painting, therefore prolonging its lifespan for the greatest length of time.
Although it can be tempting to ‘have a go’ restoring your painting yourself, we do strongly discourage this course of action. Over the years, we have treated many paintings that have come into our painting restoration studio as a result of DIY painting restoration attempts. Unfortunately, reversing failed – or poorly carried out – restoration can sometimes be extremely time-consuming, and therefore costly, to rectify. Remember, it takes years of training to become a painting conservator and successfully restoring a painting requires training, skill, experience and the correct equipment!

What sorts of paintings do you restore?

We restore a wide range of paintings, across a broad range of periods and media. Our spacious state-of-the-art climate-controlled studio allows us to restore paintings of a size that many other studios are unable to accommodate.
Painting restoration services we offer include:
• Oil painting restoration and conservation, including oil on canvas, oil on board, oil on metal
• Acrylic and vinyl painting restoration and conservation
• Gouache painting restoration and conservation
• Restoration and conservation of antique miniature paintings
• Watercolour painting restoration and conservation (please note that Plowden & Smith has a specialist conservation department for the treatment of works on paper, which would include most watercolours)
• Modern and contemporary painting restoration, including paintings incorporating found materials, or unusual materials typical of the period, for example household emulsions and enamel paints in mid-century works.
• Street art conservation, including spray paint on canvas, board, metal, concrete. We also restore and conserve street art in situ.
• Wall painting and decorative schemes of all ages and media
If your painting falls into a category that you do not feel is covered by the above list, we will almost certainly have the expertise and experience to restore it the highest standards. Please contact us with more information about your painting and we can advise.

What sort of painting restoration treatments do you carry out?

All our painting restoration treatments are created around the specific requirements of each individual painting and are preceded by discreet testing. As no two paintings are the same, it could be said that that no two painting restoration treatments are ever really the same.
Painting restoration and conservation typically falls into two categories, structural painting restoration and surface painting restoration.
Structural restoration typically refers to treatments that aim to improve and reinforce the structural integrity of the support and the surface on which the paint sits e.g. the stretcher frame, the canvas, or the board (if restoring a painting on board). Structural painting restoration treatments may include improving the stretch of the canvas, lining the canvas or repairing tears affecting the support.
Surface restoration typically refers to treatments that restore and revive the appearance of the paint. This may include removing surface dirt and accretions from a painting, removing old discoloured varnish and re-varnishing a painting, restoring any pronounced cracks (craquelure) in a painting, and retouching any missing sections of paint that may have flaked away, or have been abraded.
Other very typical examples of painting restoration include treatments to restore water damage (mould, shrinkage of support, loss of adhesion and cohesion of paint layers), fire damage (smoke on surface, deep accretions, chemical transformation of paint), and insect damage (unstable parts, residues and dirt deposits, change of colours).
Regardless of the specific treatment being carried out, our painting conservators adhere to industry-recognised guidelines laid down by European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations (E.C.C.O.), including adopting a best practice approach of minimal intervention, and working in a way that preserve the artist’s original intent, which is of critical importance, particularly when treating a work by a contemporary or living artist.

What Training and Experience Do your Painting Restorers have?

Our Painting Conservator Nao Ikeda has a wealth of experience in the conservation and restoration of easel and panel paintings. Previous roles include working as Senior Conservator for the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo. Nao has also worked for the Tajikistan National Museum, and undertaken commissions for the National Portrait Gallery, Apsley House, and Kenwood House.

Originally from Japan, Nao holds a degree in Oil Painting from the Joshibi University of Art and Design, Tokyo, Japan. She then studied easel and panel painting restoration at the Università Internazionale dell’Arte, Florence, followed by a graduate internship at the Laboratorio di Restauro dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence.

Having trained in Italy, Nao has worked on many canvas and panel paintings from the Renaissance period, including Fra Angelico’s Thebaide, Masolino da Panicale’s Storie di San Giuliano and Maestro di Rosano’s cross. Nao’s work restoring the Rosano Cross was published in the book “La Croce Dipinta dell’abbazia di Rosano – Visibile e invisibile. Studio e restauro per la comprensione” (edited by M. Ciatti).

Nao has substantial experience working on paintings of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including works by the artists Bartolomeo Bimbi, Tommaso Salini and Èlisabeth Vigèe Le Brun.

What is a painting lining and why is it so important?

When people refer to a painting having a lining, it indicates that at some point a new canvas has been attached to the back of the existing canvas. Linings are used by restorers to strengthen or flatten the original canvas, and this process is sometimes also known as ‘relining’.
In line with the best practice approach of minimal intervention, our painting restorers try to avoid lining a whole canvas, except in very extreme instances of decay. Instead, our painting restorers will opt to support only those areas of the canvas where additional structural strength is needed.
It can be hard to tell if and when a painting requires lining, therefore if you have any concerns about your painting, photograph the front and back of the canvas, and send the images along with dimensions to Although it is not always possible to give a definitive answer until the painting has been examined in person, we would be delighted to give our professional opinion on the condition of the canvas and the painting, based on your images.

I've just bought a painting. What can I do to take care of it, whilst also enjoying it?

You are absolutely right to ask what measures you can take to best protect your painting whilst also enjoying it, as the environment of a domestic home is often a far cry from the ‘optimum’ environmental conditions that a museum might seek to create. Thankfully, there are a great many things you can do to protect your art, without compromising the comfort of your home.
The first thing to remember is that paintings do not respond well to bright light, or to fluctuations in temperature and humidity as these can promote movement in the support and the paint. Therefore, you may wish to consider where you choose to display your painting. A section of a wall that is not facing direct sunlight, or above a radiator or working fireplace is a good starting point. External walls are more likely to be subject to changes in temperature and humidity levels than internal walls. Bathrooms and also kitchens (or at least the part of the kitchen with the cooker in it) are best avoided because these rooms tend to experience more rapid changes in temperature and humidity than other parts of a house. Furthermore, in a kitchen, there is always the increased risk that the painting will absorb dirt and grease.
Regardless of where you chose to display your painting, protective UV-filtering glazing will limit your painting’s exposure to harmful light, and the great thing about today’s state of the art ‘museum’ grade glass is that it so non-reflective, you really won’t know it is there.
Furthermore, glazing used in conjunction with conservation grade acid-free backboards can help create a micro-climate that will protect your painting from extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
Finally, do make sure that your painting is hung with appropriate fixings. Avoid string or cotton, which can snap and opt for high-quality picture wire instead. In some instances, particularly for heavier works, picture brackets are far safer than picture wire and do always make sure that the wall itself is strong enough to take the weight of your painting.
If you would like more information on caring for your painting at home, or have a painting which may have suffered damage as a result of its environment and would like restoration advice and a no-obligation estimate, please email some photographs showing the damage, along with the painting’s dimensions to

Is it worth getting my painting restored?

This is a question we sometimes get asked. Unfortunately, it is one of the few painting restoration questions we are unable to advise on! 
Some of the paintings we restore undoubtedly have a high market value, which to their owners makes restoring these paintings ‘worth it’. Many other paintings we restore have tremendous sentimental value to their owners. For these owners, having a professional revive the appearance and ensure the short and long term stability of their paintings – irrespective of any potential market value – is also absolutely ‘worth it’. Certainly, if a painting is going to be displayed in your home, wouldn’t you want that painting looking at its absolute best?
Many clients bring us paintings they have inherited. Often these works have historically been kept in conditions which are less than ideal, for example at some point in their lives they may have been hanging above a smoking fireplace, or spent many years in a reception room at a time when smoking indoors was more common, or alternatively they may have been stored in a damp basement, garage or shed. These works are often utterly transformed by straightforward procedures like surface cleaning, and their owners had no idea that their painting – or possibly great grandfather’s masterpiece – could ever look as good as it now does. Not only do these treatments give a whole new lease of life to the painting, but they often completely revive the room in which the painting is displayed.
If the intention is to ultimately pass your painting down to future generations, then painting restoration and conservation treatments that provide long term structural stability are highly advisable.

How much does it cost to get a painting restored?

We hate to say this, but it really is a case of how long is a piece of string!
The cost of getting a painting restored is determined by the time it will take us to carry out treatment, which of course factors in the skill, years of training and many more years’ experience of the professional carrying out the work, and the cost of any materials needed for the treatment.
What the cost of painting restoration treatment does not depend on, is the value of the painting. Whether the painting has a monetary value of five pounds or five million pounds, the cost of restoring any damage will be the same. Whether we are restoring or framing your child’s first drawing, a mid-century acrylic bought from an art gallery, or an oil painting by Peter Paul Rubens, all will receive the same exacting levels of care, expertise and attention, and will leave our painting restoration studio looking their absolute very best.
If you would like to find out how much restoring a specific painting would cost, please email photographs showing the front and back of the painting, along with its dimensions to We would be delighted to provide you with some initial advice on the painting’s condition, along with a no-obligation estimate if we feel that conservation or restoration treatment would be of benefit. Don’t forget to include images of the reverse – it often tells us more about condition than the front!

Will restoration add to the value of my painting?

A painting in good visual and structural condition will always be more desirable than the same painting in poor condition.
Furthermore, being in optimum condition and looking at its very best, will certainly enhance a painting’s value in the eyes of its owners in a way that is difficult to put a value on.

Do you value paintings?

We are sometimes asked if we value paintings and the answer is no, we do not value paintings (nor any other antiques or works of art for that matter). Appraising a painting’s market value is an entirely separate discipline to conserving and restoring of a painting, requiring its own distinct expertise and experience. We also recognise that there would be a potential conflict of interest if we were to advise on the value of a painting whilst also providing painting restoration services.
We are happy to recommend several extremely reputable independent fine art valuers, who will be able to guide you on the potential market value of your artwork. All recommendations are based entirely on our experience and also on positive feedback we have had from clients. We do not make commission on any referrals we make.

To find out more about our fine art restoration services, or to discuss a project

please get in touch