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Clearing the Haze on Andrew Wyeth’s “Airborne”

Andrew Wyeth
"Airborne

A few guests have commented recently concerning a strange phenomenon that they have noticed on Andrew Wyeth’s 1996 painting, Airborne. The painting has developed several patches of whitish haze that have been spreading over time.

Andrew Wyeth "Airborne," 1996 Tempera on panel Before treatment

Andrew Wyeth
“Airborne,” 1996
Tempera on panel
Before treatment

There is no need for alarm.  This hazy efflorescence is a result of a chemical process in the work’s egg tempera paint.  As the egg medium ages, certain fatty acids leach out and migrate to the surface as powdery crystals. It’s a reaction seen regularly in Wyeth paintings, and it lessens over time.

“This is a fairly recent Wyeth painting,” explained paintings conservator Gay Myers. “Typically, as the paintings age, the reaction gradually gets less and less and eventually it calms down. In paintings that are 40 to 50 years old, it’s much more subtle.”

Andrew Wyeth "Airborne," 1996 Tempera on panel After treatment

Andrew Wyeth
“Airborne,” 1996
Tempera on panel
After treatment

Troubling as the white bloom appears, it’s actually not difficult to remedy. Some gentle buffing with brushes or silk have now cleared the haze away … at least until the next bloom. It will likely return, in anywhere from a few months to a year or more, but the efflorescence does no damage to the artwork.

Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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