George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 and purchased by the Smithsonian in 2001, is scheduled to be cleaned and restored starting in 2016. The Associated Press reports:
Conservators wanted to clean and restore the painting for many years, but the museum was reluctant to take it off view. The painting is in good condition but does have problems, including paint losses in Washington’s black coat, said CindyLou Molnar, the museum’s head of conservation [shown above]. The biggest problem is the heavy yellow varnish that disguises details in the painting.There will also be a “refreshing” of the museum’s galleries of Presidential portraits to tell more about each man and his administration. The U.S. government has long owned a backup copy of this portrait, which could presumably be moved over from the White House to the Smithsonian during the study and conservation period.
“It will take me quite a while to figure out what it will take to safely remove the yellow resinous varnish and not disturb the actual paint surface,” Molnar said.
In 2001, film X-rays of the painting revealed some changes Stuart made in the picture. In one case, he moved a quill ink pen on the table beside Washington. The images showed how Stuart was having trouble adjusting the figure and objects in his original portrait, Molnar said. New technology will provide a clearer image beneath the surface. It’s not clear, though, whether any new discoveries will be made.