Restore a Painting
Should you do the minimal amount of work or make it look its best?
Virginia Panizzon, Art Conservator
Restoring a vintage oil painting often involves options of treatments to choose from. If you are not experienced in dealing with a painting conservator and choosing art restoration services, you may very understandably wonder what is the best thing for the painting.
The financial value of the artwork may be a guide by which collectors and curators make decisions for the conservation and preservation of their artwork. However, value is not always only given by its monetary reclaim. Historical value and personal or emotional value also give people good reasons to preserve their heirlooms and collectibles.
A professional art conservator can be a valuable consultant for you to make good decisions regarding your artwork. A good example would be in trying to decide whether it is in the best interest of the artwork to have everything possible done to restore the painting, like when a painting has had a lot of previous restorations. For a number of reasons, this may motivate only a partial restoration treatment.
Consider, for instance that it is very important to address the preservation problems before dealing with the aesthetic issues. For example, if a client doesn’t want to spend much money but they want to preserve the painting and if a painting is very dirty and flaking; we will forego the cleaning but stabilize the flaking in the best interest of preserving the artwork. Its easy to see how the stabilization of the unstable paint is most important.
We recently received a historical maritime painting with a lighthouse in the distance from c.1895. It had extensive multiple previous restorations. Several large rips and holes had been repaired (and were still quite visible), a very poor quality cleaning had been done (maybe more than once) unevenly removing a very discolored varnish. Extensive over-abundant repainting (retouching) changed original features over most of the painting.
Even though it looked pretty rough, the general condition of the artwork was stable. In other words, there was no flaking or other signs of falling apart. The particular feature that really bothered the owner was the dark repainting of the water in the foreground which eliminated the water details and the owner said it looked to her like “the ship was sailing on land.” Here’s a quick video testimonial…
So, in this case, our client’s primary concern was to clean the water in the foreground and recuperate the details of the water. It was not possible to clean the entire painting without removing all the previous retouchings and exposing all the extensive damage and increasing the budget dramatically. While doing a complete restoration was definitely possible, it didn’t make sense to the owner given the financial value of the painting.
The owner may have made a different decision if this had been her grandfather’s ship or if her ancestor’s had immigrated on this ship. So, you can see there are different motivations for decisions. As long as the artwork is stable, the decision about the appearance is subjective.
The photo below is the grandmother of the present owner. It was sent to a well advertised Russian immigrant restorer who repainted the portrait. Horrified, the only option was to try and recoup all of the original by removing all of the oil paint repainting. So, in this case, the motivation for a complete and proper painting conservation treatment was justified by the owner independent of the financial value.
Professional art conservation adheres to standards of practice and ethics when it comes to treating artwork to preserve its original and historical integrity and in business practices with clients.
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Scott M. Haskins, Virginia Panizzon, Oriana Montemurro, Art Conservators
805 564 3438 office
805 570 4140 mobile