Following up on last month’s article I thought I would delve into the restoration and conservation issue.To begin, one should understand that there is a difference between restoration and conservation ... at least that is what I have been told!
Restoration refers to taking something (painting, furniture, silver, mom’s fine china, etc.) and returning it to the way it looked when it was created.For example: if a painting were flaking (paint actually falling off the canvas) one would correct the problem that caused the flaking and then fix the damaged areas so that they looked as good as new.
Conservation refers to taking a damaged work and preventing any additional damage from happening (in the case of mom’s fine china … keeping it away from the children!).But seriously, in the same example (a work of art where the paint is flaking) a conservator would also correct the problem that caused the paint to flake, and then might just leave the work, as is … or if they did fix the damages, those areas might still be visible.
Now that we have established the difference, who cares?Very few people do … in the real world these words are used interchangeably and most people would rather look at something that was restored than something that was just conserved!However, now you are armed with a little more information … but like mom always said… ‘A little information can be dangerous’ (and if you only listened to her about the china!).As you will soon see, in reality there may be very little difference between the restoration and conservation processes and, if needed and done correctly, either will greatly benefit your artwork.
Once you have determined that your work of art needs some care, there is only one thing you should do.... consult a professional.The restoration/conservation of a work of art is a very delicate procedure and should only be attempted by an expert.I also believe that as the current owner of any work of art, you are its caretaker and it is your responsibility to preserve it for the benefit of future generations … remember, you are caring for a piece of history.
There are restorers/conservators (for the balance of this article I will use the word restore) throughout the world and many are very good at what they do.In order to find a good one, I suggest that you contact dealers you have confidence in and get their recommendation – you may even find that the dealer of your choice may be happy to take care of the entire process for you.
However, should you decide that you want to ‘do it yourself’ (find a restorer that is) the next step is to call and either set up an appointment to bring the work in (if they are local) or send detailed photos of the work.Don’t be afraid to contact restorers in other cities.Remember that restorers in big cities often work on many paintings during the year and there is often plenty of competition – which is always good when it comes to price.
You also want to be sure that the restorer in question has worked on other paintings from the period, or better yet, other paintings by the particular artist.Keep in mind that each artist has/had a particular way of painting.The more works a restorer has seen and worked on by the artist, the more familiar they will be with your work.
After the restorer has made his/her examination they will inform you what they feel needs to be done.Ask questions about the condition of your painting and try to learn what caused the damage so you can prevent it from happening again.And most importantly, get an estimate and a detailed explanation of what they are going to do.
During your discussion the restorer may use a number of words or phrases that are foreign to you.Below I have outlined a basic restoration procedure and have used many of the ‘technical’ words and phrases – including a brief definition after each one.
Normally the first thing that needs to be done to an old painting is a:
Cleaning – in this process the restorer uses a variety of chemicals to remove the old, dirty, varnish.Over time many varnishes have a natural tendency to yellow and this causes the work to look dull and dirty. By removing this varnish, the original layer of paint will be exposed and all the original colors will be visible.Please, do not try this at home.While one can buy most of the chemicals you need to clean a work at your local hardware store, it is the professional’s knowledge of their proper mixture that prevents them from damaging the work.The wrong mixture will cause serious damage!
During the cleaning process not only will the old varnish be removed, but any old restoration will become more visible.It is at this time that you may receive a phone call from your restorer informing you that the work is in better, or worse, shape than they thought.
They may also inform you that your work needs to be placed on a:
Vacuum/Hot Table – a large smooth table that allows the restorer to heat a painting, under pressure, to a desired temperature so that it can be:
Treated - a process that uses humidity from a chemical/water mixture to relax structural cracks in a painting.
Re-lined - a process in which the back of the old canvas is attached to a new canvas to give it support.
While years ago the standard bonding agents were either rabbit skin glue or wax, today they use:
BEVA glue – this adhesive, unlike the other two, is fully reversible and much easier and cleaner to use.This will be important if the work ever needs to be restored in the future.
Once the work has been re-lined, the next step is to repair (if necessary) any areas where there is paint loss – or as they say:
Fillings – something similar to a visit to the dentist to have a cavity filled, however a restorer will often use spackle to build up the loss so that it is almost even with the uppermost paint layer.
After the filling/fillings have dried the next step is to spray a layer of:
Varnish – this will place a protective layer between the original painting and any restoration that is done.
After this layer has dried the restorer will begin to:
Inpaint – using restorer’s pigments to color the fillings so they match the surrounding area. Like other products used in this process, these paints, since they do not dry as hard as oil paint, are fully reversible.
After the inpainting has dried, the final step is to give the work a:
Finishing/Protective Varnish – a final layer of varnish that protects both the original painting and any restoration that was done.There are a number of finishes that can be used – matte, semi-gloss and gloss. The right one is often a matter of personal preference.
Below are images of a painting by Daniel Ridgway Knight before and after cleaning.In this particular case, the painting only needed to be cleaned and varnished, but you can see the dramatic results:
Please remember that this is just a brief discussion of the restoration/conservation process. There are many other procedures that may be needed, but these are the most common.
Should you find that a work of art you own needs some attention, we will be happy to assist you through our affiliate company – Scarpini Studios.
Gallery Updates: We are still searching for letters and documents pertaining to the lives of Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839 – 1924) and Julien Dupré (1851 – 1910).Should you have any information you can share with us, it would be greatly appreciated.
The gallery has also acquired new works by Edouard Cortès, Victor Marais-Milton, Emile Munier, Felix Schlesinger, Heidi Coutu and Sally Swatland – some of which have been added to our site.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have added one work to – Rehs Galleries: A Visual History … Leon Perrault’s Sleeping Putto. Painted in 1882 this work features a beautiful young cherub sleeping on a rose covered cloud. Rehs Galleries sold this angelic work in 1996 – 114 years after it was painted.The direct link to this work is:
October was a very active month and a number of works found new homes; among them were Leon Girardet’s Le Poet; Antoine Moulinet’s Recess; and Heidi Coutu’s Giverney Reflection. However, the hot items were scenes of Paris and among the works that not only found new homes, but have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions are: Antoine Blanchard’s Place de la Madeleine, Winter; Quai du Louvre; Arc de Triomphe and Édouard Cortès’ Place Pigalle, Hiver; Place de la Republique (c.1949); Place de la Republique (c.1930); Theatre du Vaudeville; and Ma Mere.
Next Month: Continuing on my “How to Care for Your Works of Art” series I will discuss – The Environment … hum … could this be a conservation push? I do not think so!!!