Tips For Fine Art Collectors

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 www.saveyourstuffblog.com

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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Comments (6)

anneSeptember 30th, 2010 at 7:02 pm

What if a painting had a few small holes in it…is it repairable? And how does one find an art auction catalog of an item if there are numbers, letters/words on back of canvas? and if one likes their painting, how much would it cost to repair holes in a canvas? Does the flaking/some chipping matter? If someone wanted to buy it, wouldn’t they rather see it in such a state and find their own restorer?
And once I sent pics of my painting and they said it was a repro but I hardly believe that their computer anaylsi of my painting was correct when even their Biography of the artist was not correct. Shame shame…this was a waste. Anyway, I need to find provenance no matter what.

Scott HaskinsSeptember 30th, 2010 at 8:23 pm

All good questions Anne. Here are the answers:
1. What if a painting had a few small holes in it…is it repairable? Yes, and you have two choices, usually: a. stabilize the problems but don’t work on problems that are only aesthetic (cleaning or inpainting) and b. do the conservation work to make the damage disappear.
2. And how does one find an art auction catalog of an item if there are numbers, letters/words on back of canvas? Sometimes the numbers are not from an auction. The numbers could be a collector or artist’s inventory, a shipping ID or? If you KNOW that the number relates to an auction sale, then you can call the auction house, talk to the painting specialist and ask for some coaching.
3. If one likes their painting, how much would it cost to repair holes in a canvas? How big of holes, how many, how much paint in missing, how big is the painting and other questions influence the cost. A ball park can be given from a photo but the solid estimate can only be given from looking at the actual artwork.
4. Does the flaking/some chipping matter? Yes, it usually means the condition is unstable and more damage/loss is forthcoming. Stabilizing the structure of the flaking is the highest priority. Making it LOOK better, is secondary. If you don’t stabilize the deterioration, you’ll be throwing money away.
5. If someone wanted to buy it, wouldn’t they rather see it in such a state and find their own restorer? The very experienced collectors and dealers usually have their own conservator to consult. Most “regular” collectors, however, like to buy their artwork already looking wonderful. Also consider that if a painting looks damaged or is ugly condition-wise, these will be reasons that the buyer will use to beat up the seller for a lower price. I see this scenario everyday.
6. Some opinions can be given off of a photo but the most accurate opinion will be from the “expert” seeing the artwork first hand.

Did I answer all your questions? Thanks for leaving comments. I encourage everyone to stay plugged in.

Scott M. Haskins

LisaSeptember 19th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

This is very useful information. I bought a Paul Brach abstract at a yard sale for $20– comparable work looks to sell in the $1500 range. It has considerable flaking at the bottom of the picture (maybe a quarter inch from edge of canvas) and what looks like slight ripples between backing and canvas. Being COMPLETELY new to this field (I’m a diehard knick knack collector, but never original art), I’m stumped as to how to begin. Should I have it appraised to see if restoration is even advisable? While I could probably put $200 or so into it, $1,000 is far beyond my reach. Any advice on keeping it from being ruined completely? I know you’d have to see it to have a realistic idea of the condition, but is there anything I can do at home just to help stabilize its condition? Can it be wiped with a dry or damp cloth to get dust and cobwebs off of it? Again, scared to ruin it now that it’s in my care!

Thanks in advance for your help,
Lisa

Scott HaskinsNovember 20th, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Hi Lisa,
Thanks for reaching out. Obviously, wiping a rag over an area of flaking paint will wipe off the flakes of original paint too. Theoretically, the more paint is flaked off, the less it is worth… so you can see that scraping off the original flaking paint is not the way to go. There are several difficult problems to remedy in your example that require seeing the artwork. A local art conservator might be willing to look it over for you as would maybe an auction house. Inquire about what it would take to stabilize the problem areas only, in order to get the lowest cost estimate.

Jim HellorMay 8th, 2016 at 7:44 am

Good tips. I think it might just come down to looking very closely at the painting before you make the investment. Wouldn’t you agree?

Scott HaskinsMay 8th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

“Due diligence” is the name of the investing game.

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