An Overview of Bronze Sculpture Cleaning

Those who’ve owned outdoor bronze sculptures for many years will know that they will certainly deteriorate if not well maintained. So how do you effectively maintain a bronze sculpture?

The key with bronze sculpture cleaning and maintenance is to carry it out regularly. Some sculptors and curators recommend cleaning as often as every 3-months. In actuality, the environment in which a sculpture is stored needs to be taken into consideration before deciding what is an effective maintenance regime.

A sculpture left in the outdoors for a number of years will usually degrade significantly and then need major restoration work to bring it back to its former glory. As well as having missed out on the enjoyment of the artwork to the full extent, it will often cost more to restore than it would have to fully maintain the sculpture over the years it was deteriorating.

Bronze Sculpture Cleaning Process

A full clean of the sculpture will usually start with removal of the old wax coating. This is done by heating the bronze artwork with a blow torch until the wax soften and runs – then the wax can be removed with a cloth.

New wax is then applied to the bronze while it is still warm, with any excess wax being removed in the process. If done incorrectly the wax may create a milky looking surface on the bronze.

Using a sculpture cleaning professional who fully understands what issues to look for when maintaining a sculpture – and how to attend to those issues is always recommended for sculptures of value.

Bronze Sculpture Restoration Process

Each restoration will have differences depending on the sculpture, its size, complexity and location. For instance a sculpture that has lost its color, or the color has changed over time will need to have the patina removed. The patina is the surface colour which has been established through applying a chemical solution to the bronze surface. The reaction caused as the chemical interacts with the bronze creates the patina color.

Best Practices in Sculpture Cleaning

The common wisdom from sculptors and metal experts is that bronze sculptures (and many other types of sculptures too) should be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. Suggestions vary in terms of how regularly it should be carried out – with between 3-6 months being the conventional wisdom. Patination expert Patrick V Kipper highlights in his book ‘The Care of Bronze Sculpture’:

“The cleaning and waxing of outdoor sculptures on average. More than two treatments a year may be recommended for humid and acidic areas…”

Duty of Care for Bronze Sculptures

Patrick V Kipper states in his book ‘The Care of Bronze Sculpture’ that collectors and owners of bronze sculptures carry a responsibility and duty of care:

“As caretaker, the collector has the choice of either maintaining and protecting the patinated (colored) surfaces of this metal, or neglecting these metal finishes, thus allowing changes to occur in the patina and possibly in the metal surface itself.”