Tips For Fine Art Collectors

Art Salvage of Painting of Giverney France – Monet’s Colony

I was contacted by an 80 year old woman whose father had left her a closet full of antique paintings. The works of art were all by the same artist Vladimer Radimsky, that he had bought in Paris in 1920. He brought the paintings home to the US, put them away in storage and never showed them or put them up on the walls. They were all on stretcher bars except one that was rolled up like a newspaper and was considered destroyed.

A bad way to store or ship art

Examples of rolled up paintings – alway bad for the artwork

As a professional art conservator, our profession’s code of ethics doesn’t let us get into the buying and selling of art, especially with clients that come to us for art conservation services. Its a conflict of interest. We ended up cleaning several paintings, lining a few but in the end, the owner wanted to sell them all. I was kind of caught in the middle of helping the owner connect with a buyer who bought the whole collection, even though the artist is pretty minor and unknown in the US. That says a lot for the quality of the artwork! As a thank you, the owner gave me the destroyed, rolled up painting.

A little about Radimsky: He went to France to be part of the painting experience surrounding Monet’s colony. We assumed this painting was of Giverney as others in the collection that looked similar in technique and subject had written on the stretcher bars by the artist “Giverney.” Radimski was hit and killed by a car I believe in 1921.

After conservation from being rolled up

After art conservation treatments from being rolled up for 90 years

The painting was dirty, paint was flaking, deep cracking patterns distorted the whole surface… not a pretty sight. So, we started by carefully consolidating the lifting paint by absorbing low molecular weight thermoplastic adhesives into the cracks. Then we relaxed the cracks and distortions on the hot table and lined the picture, preserving all the original impasto or texture of the surface. Once lined and the painting was structurally stable, we were able to clean it which brought out the original colors, restored depth of field and contrast to the composition. Then we filled the paint losses, carefully and accurately inpainted and then varnished. It was put onto new stretcher bars and… voila’. Ready to go for another 100 years. Turns out, this painting was  stunning!

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Is The Toni Curtis Hollywood Freeway Mural In Danger Of Being Lost To Vandals and Graffiti?!

Mural of Toni Curtis on Hollywood Freeway To Be Lost?

Artist George Sportelli Maintains His Mural Of Toni Curtis At His Cost

This mural of Toni Curtis by George Sportelli was painted back in 1995. It is located on the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles southbound at the Sunset Overpass. It has become a beloved landmark of LA culture.

For the last 15 years, it has been a constant fight by the artist to maintain the mural, at his cost, against graffiti and he’s getting tired of the whole incessant process.

Numerous wonderful, amazing murals have been obliterated along that same stretch of freeway. Here’s one I shot a picture of last month. I just jumped over a low chain link fence, slide down a ivy covered slope and I was on the freeway shoulder, right where any vandal would find it easy to deface.

Graffiti obliterates murals

Fabulous public art is being obliterated by vandals on Hollywood Freeway murals

I’m hoping that the artist will NOT get tired but persist. Ask for help from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Don’t give in to the dark side’s activities. The artist has blogged that he is currently looking for a site to relocate this mural. But will that happen?

Its especially important, now that Toni’s gone. I’ve left a message for George to call me. I’d like to help if I can.

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Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries: National Gallery’s Close Examination

Does this woman have dark secret

A Blond with a Dark Secret

Here are questions that rattle every collector’s cage, are the plots for suspenseful movies and books and the subject of great stories: authentication, fake art, misattributions. We deal with these issues, if not daily, then weekly for sure and have tools, technology and connoisseurship to do the examinations in our FACL lab: UV, IR. X-ray, microscopes etc. We also make house calls.

Here’s the article:

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Knowing the Difference Between Real and Counterfeit Art: The Challenge for Collectors

Real versus Fake?

I once had a really nice, large landscape painting by Edgar Payne come into the lab that the owner thought may be fake… or at least badly overpainted… because it “lit up like a Christmas tree” under the black light. He wanted everything that fluoresced taken off! With only a quick inspection it was obvious to me that the painting was in virgin condition and that the “weird look” under the UV lamp was just the way the original pigments fluoresced.

If this painting had been attacked by a unknowledgable restorer,a very expensive and very beautiful virgin Edgar Payne would have been ruined.

Distinguishing a genuine work of art from a counterfeit wannabe stands at the foundation of every collector’s turmoil. “Fakes” are not always someone’s effort to deceive.  However, most “fakes” are fraudulent. Here are a few different scenarios to consider as a collector:

  • An artist’s estate can morally add an artist’s signature to a piece post mortem in an effort to identify the estate and the artist on artwork that was unsigned originally.
  • An unscrupulous art dealer can add a fake signature to make the artwork more valuable.  Even the signature of an unknown name can make the artwork more valuable than an unsigned painting.
  • A “new” painting can be antiqued to look old and more valuable.
  • An old painting can be “doctored” so heavily to mask or disguise repairs that it changes the essence of the artwork and makes the artwork no longer “original.”
  • Old artwork, now dirty, can be mistaken for something it is not.  This can be an honest mistake by a collector or dealer.

Some of the “tools” and technology at an art conservator’s disposal include infrared reflectography, ultraviolet visible fluorescence, x-radiography, stereobinocular microscope. But these tools are not to be trusted blindly. In the hand of a person with an experienced eye,  connoisseurship adds a final ingredient that is all important.  FACL offers expertise and analysis to assist in your evaluation processes as a collector. Also, we work closely with a specialized appraiser who is very talented and qualified.

Here are two interesting examples that recently came into the lab:

  1. An art gallery bought a print that they believed was an original but dingy landscape painting. The surface of the print was textured and somewhat masked by the layer of discolored dirt, which gave the appearance of paint.  However the image was a serigraph applied through a screening process, which is a printing type common since the 1920’s. So, it is from the period, but not an original oil.
  2. An old painting, clearly from the 1920’s, arrived in our lab for examination. The signature in the lower left hand corner was quickly identified as  blatantly fraudulent.  Unfortunately, this California landscape had cost the client $35,000! Furthermore, there was no recourse for returning it.

This piece was printed in the 1920’s with a technique that results in paint texture  and was covered with grime.  An art dealer mistook this print as an original painting.

Because of the fraudulent signature, an antique dealer lost $35,000.

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Tips for Looking at Previous Art Conservation Before Buying A Painting

Practically daily, I am asked to help look over a painting that is being considered for purchase. Most of the confusion, on the part of the buyer, is when the painting doesn’t look exactly right even though there have been previous restoration/conservation treatments. Some of the questions that a collector could/should ask would be:

1. Does this painting look its best?

2. Has the previous restoration/conservation been done well?

3. Does the present condition impact the price of purchase?

Here’s an example…

Cleaning a previously cleaned painting

This painting was previously, recently cleaned.

This painting by William Wendt was lined with wax and cleaned. The painting is still muted or gray looking and the cracking is still pretty pronounced. Before purchasing the painting the prospective buyer asked me to look it over. By understanding the improvement that could be had with proper conservation treatments (complete cleaning and relining to remove the cracks) the buyer felt completely informed… full disclosure. Our price to do the cleaning, remove the wax lining and reline was $1,500.00. In this case, the buyer was able to negotiate a different sales price that was much lower than the cost of conservation. But, many dealers will at least pay for any additional conservation work needed in order to “seal the deal.”

Another question is, “Should the painting be cleaned and lined AGAIN?” Since this painting is not flaking and not at risk, preservation wise, the conservation work is mostly motivated by aesthetics. In this case, then, I usually ask what the “threshhold of pain” is for the collector. Does the collector care if the painting doesn’t show off its best color? Does cracking bother the collector (if its not at risk for flaking)? If the answer is “No”, then don’t have the work done.

This painting still needs cleaning because either the restorer didn’t see the additional dirty layer (after the top layer was removed) or the owner wanted a cheap clean which only took off the top layer of varnish but not the underlying harder layer.

Its unclear why the painting was lined with wax. It doesn’t appear to have benefited the painting at  all. It doesn’t look like it was ever flaking. So, this part of the previous treatment was simply low quality work.

This painting is actually in great condition, meaning that it has not been damaged. It will be cleaned to reveal its best colors and lined to remove the cracking. Hopefully, the spirit of William Wendt will be proud to have his painting seen in its best light.

So, what can you do to feel like you’ve got “full disclosure” (and understand all your options) before you buy? Here are 3 tips:

1. We will look at the painting for you, at no cost, if the process does not involve analysis.

2. Buy from a reputable dealer. You were probably referred or linked to this website buy someone we do business with and therefore I would trust them to give you an honest full disclosure.

3. If you are buying at auction, we often preview artwork for a fee. The main auction houses will allow me to come in for a special viewing(evaluation) at your request. I know most of the painting dept people.

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Flaking Paint and Bad Restorations

This delightful scene of high society Veneto, Italy at the end of the 1700′s was purchased by its collector thinking that it just had a little flaking paint problem along the bottom edge. Cleaning ladies damp rags wiping off dust down in the lower areas (most easily reached) most often causes this problem… which is totally avoidable! For numerous other posts on this subject see

Cleaning lady's damp rag causes paint to crack and flake

Flaking in lower areas is due to wiping the surface with a damp rag.

But even experienced collectors make mistakes. This problem of flaking is not the only problem: the painting has already been through at least a couple of restorations that were poorly done including mounting this painting to masonite and repainting much of the sky and clouds. What was thought to be valued at $25,000 is now being dumped for $1,000.00 because of condition problems.

Flaking paint...this could have been avoided.

So, now, what to do?! The conservation costs to consolidate (stabilize) the flaking, fill the losses and inpaint them to not be visible will be at least $1,000.00. That doesn’t include work to take the painting off the masonite or clean it… two expensive treatments, in this case, to bring the artwork back to pristine appearance. After stabilizing the condition and bringing it back to look whole again… will it be worth the $25K again?

Not hardly. Remember the extensive overpaint in the sky and clouds? With so much of the painting no longer being original, it has mostly decorator value. But sometimes, this type of bad restoration can be undone and perhaps some or all of the $25K can be  recuperated. We haven’t gotten into the cleaning tests yet to be able to determine if that’s possible. So, stand by…

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