Reviving WHAAM! a comparative evaluation of cleaning systems for the conservation treatment of Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic painting

Angelica Bartoletti, Rachel Barker, David Chelazzi, Nicole Bonelli, Piero Baglioni, Judith Lee, Lora V. Angelova, Bronwyn Ormsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! (1963) is an iconic artwork in Tate’s collection (T00897). Over the past 50 years, the painting has been on almost continuous display and had accrued a layer of deposited soiling, which resulted in the dampening of Lichtenstein’s vibrant colours and the masking of numerous subtleties across the painting surface. This paper outlines the design and execution of an optimal soiling removal strategy for this challenging work; utilising collaborative, practice-based research. The conservation treatment employed was derived through an iterative process that reflected and supported the conservation decision-making process. The research strands included: technical and art historical investigations to determine the materials and construction of Whaam! and to define the aims of the conservation treatment; preparation of accelerated aged and artificially soiled test (mock-up) paint samples based on contemporary equivalent materials and a comparative evaluation of a range of established and novel soil-removal systems, followed by further tailoring for use on the work of art. The range of cleaning systems evaluated included free-solvents, gels and emulsifiers; which were documented using star diagrams, digital microscopy and infrared spectroscopy. After a rigorous process of assessment and refinement, the strategy taken forward to Whaam! included the use of a polyvinyl alcohol-based polymeric hydrogel (Nanorestore Gel® Peggy 6), uploaded with tailored aqueous solutions. This process facilitated a low risk, controlled and even-removal of the soiling layer, enabling the successful treatment of this sensitive painting for the first time in the painting’s history.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalHeritage Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020


  • Acrylic
  • Cleaning
  • Emulsifier
  • Evaluation
  • Hydrogel
  • Lichtenstein
  • Magna
  • Nanorestore
  • Oil
  • Peggy
  • Whaam!


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