When an artist completes a painting, it seems strange to think that the way the artwork has been created will lead to issues requiring restoration.

Our clients are surprised when we explain certain causes of damage and why treatment is needed. It is not something they would come to expect, especially if they have inherited or purchased a painting and have no prior knowledge of its history.

If an artist uses unusual and unstable materials or prepares their painting in a non-traditional way, this is when problems appear.

Problems arising from the way a painting is created are not specific to contemporary paintings; the majority of paintings with similar issues we have dealt with date from the early nineteenth century onwards.

It’s also not just the materials used (or lack of) that provide challenges. The substrate an artwork is created on, such as canvas, paper, panel and copper can have their own complications.

We have recently worked on two paintings with such issues that have led to restoration. We’ve included these examples below, so you can be aware of what to look out for on your own artwork, alongside helpful advice for how you can best care for your paintings.

Restoration Example 1 – Oil Portrait

The first example is a female oil portrait of our client’s grandmother. Understandably it holds deep sentimental value for their family. It arrived in the studio needing extensive consolidation as the paint layer was severely cracked and had substantially lifted away from the canvas, making it very unstable.

The reason for this condition was due to the canvas not having been prepared properly before the paint was applied. Consequently, the paint had dried at different times and caused widespread cracking. Our conservators restored the painting by carefully re-adhering each part of the cracked paint to the canvas and then consolidating the whole of the paint layer. Dealing with a cracked or lifting paint layer is always a time-intensive and painstaking job. Issues relating to a painting’s paint layer are very wide-ranging and can affect many different types of artwork. For more information read our helpful article Flaking, cupping and tenting: common issues with an oil painting’s paint layer.

Now the painting has been fully stabilised and restored, there should be no further issues. Our client was delighted to receive the painting back in excellent condition. (Please note the before and after photographs were taken under different studio lights, hence the difference in the green paint)

Restoration Example 2 – Contemporary Still Life

The second painting is also very sentimental to our client, having belonged to her mother. At approximately 50 years old, the painting is classed as contemporary art and likewise had extensive issues with the paint layer. 

There was widespread cracking particularly along the impasto and large sections of the painting had been lost entirely. The damage had further escalated from being moved around, knocked, stored incorrectly and packaged inappropriately. Our conservators discovered the painting has no ground layer so the paint had been applied directly to the canvas and has in time become more vulnerable. We are underway with its restoration, including consolidating the painting fully and putting some control measures in place for its future safekeeping. These measures include installing the painting into a deeper frame with a backboard, wadding and glazing to minimise movement of the painting and more issues arising.

How can I look after my artwork?

The substrate an artwork is created on, such as canvas, paper, panel and copper can cause their own issues and complications.

Paintings on panel are prone to cracking if they are mishandled or if they are displayed in a very warm environment. We restore many panel paintings including those that have cracked or split in two. 

As it’s not possible to change the nature and characteristics of panel paintings, measures can be taken to ensure that they are well cared for, such as:

  • Keep panel paintings displayed in a clear space and ensure no unnecessary pressure or force is exerted against the panels. 
  • The temperature of the room should be even without fluctuations and never too warm. 
  • It is best to keep panel paintings out of rooms where there are open fires and not in direct contact with radiators and other strong heat sources. 
  • In the warmer months, ensure that rooms are well ventilated. 

Oil paintings on copper provide a unique set of challenges considering how sensitive copper is to moisture. Exposure to water leads to oxidation and rusting, causing the copper to be weakened.

They should ideally be kept out of damp and cold environments. Paintings on copper are also very fragile – if they are knocked out of shape it is not possible to flatten them back out.

It is important to ensure that no pressure is placed on the copper, and they are not accidentally knocked or damaged. To know more about paintings on copper, read our article How To Restore Oil Paintings On Copper.

By understanding how your artwork has been created and the challenges they may potentially face, you can take practical steps to minimise any damage. We can successfully treat paintings where such problems have arisen so if you think your artwork requires similar restoration, please do get in touch and we can offer our advice.

If you would like our recommendations for your artwork, please contact us for our no-obligation help.

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