When artworks arrive in the studio, it can often be the case that they have already undergone some form of repair or restoration which has fallen below par or gone wrong. This can relate to current damage that has led to them getting in touch or it can be either recent or historic restoration that is still disturbingly evident and unsightly. In all of these scenarios, the consequence is clear; the artwork has been devalued.
In such circumstances as those highlighted above, the restoration has been largely proven to be beyond the ability of the person carrying out the treatment. It is vital for owners of artworks to carry out due diligence for whichever individual or company they choose to give their paintings to. It is advisable to seek the services of an individual who has professional accreditation and/or qualifications and seeing past examples of restorations on their website can also be helpful.
Sometimes the choice has solely come down to costs, and owners will opt for someone who promises a lower cost but who may not have the necessary knowledge and resources to complete the restoration. This recently occurred for one of our clients. Their painting had been given to a restorer to repair a tear following accidental damage, but during the course of the restoration, it became clear that this work was not something the restorer was comfortable treating. In addition, the paint layer was heavily abraded from excessive and harsh cleaning. Our client called us in some distress, to express her concerns, whilst the painting was still with the restorer, as she was apprehensive about how it looked and the work that was being carried out. Following conversations, advice and suggestions, we were instructed to collect the painting for assessment, during which it was obvious that the tear repair and cleaning had not been completed properly or sympathetically and to the standards we would expect.
This was a stressful episode for our client; firstly due to the accidental damage that had occurred. Secondly, to see the negative progress of their painting, and lastly, to know that restoration would be more costly as the repairs would need to be reversed and completed properly.
When we conduct assessments of artworks, we ensure that the whole of the painting is thoroughly checked. Our team are all professionally qualified conservators and know how to complete a condition assessment of an artwork. This, therefore, led to our team also finding that our client’s painting needed more work than our client was informed of; namely strip-lining the canvas edges as the artwork was not structurally stable due to them disintegrating. Completing this work ensured that the painting was the strongest it could be, and would not accrue additional costs from the subsequent restoration.
Although this painting was paused during restoration, it is a common occurrence to receive paintings into the studio that were completely restored previously, and need further work. This is most frequently seen (and most obvious) for oil paintings with tears. For another painting we recently restored, it had been repaired at some point following damage from shipping, but not to a suitable standard. There was a clear marked line across the bottom of the painting where the repair had been attempted. For other paintings with tears, we also see paint being added excessively to try and cover over the repair efforts. This newer paint merely hides what hasn’t been properly repaired, and has not contributed to ensuring the artwork stays intact.
Our clients are sometimes concerned about whether restoration will affect the value and sale price of artworks. Many paintings, including Old Masters, are likely to have had a form of restoration at some point but have still sold well. Whether the value of an artwork will be affected can largely be attributed to the scale of the work required and quality of the restoration.
Essentially, as long as the treatment does not materially affect and alter the original work, the restoration will not decrease the value. In the instances highlighted previously, there is a clear visual disturbance to the artwork and its artistic appeal is recognisably altered. The original work has therefore been altered, and if the artwork was ever valued or sold, this would be reflected in the figures.
Another scenario we also face is when our clients attempt restoration themselves and it quickly turns out very differently to how they imagined, often after seeking guidance from the internet and YouTube DIY videos. A vintage ceramic cigar ashtray we restored is a good example of this. Our client tried to complete the repairs but the materials used along with their level of skill were incompatible with the requirements of the repair. Epoxy was used to try and glue the pieces back together but it instead seeped out of the sides where the pieces should have re-joined.
For this piece, and for all artworks, reverse restoration is possible with our treatments. It is a common case for both artworks and ceramics that they will have had restoration and repairs at some point which may need to be reversed and made seamless. We can ascertain exactly how far the repair has gone, and what further treatment is needed. When restoration is reversed and artwork has no visible signs of treatment, then the value has also been restored. If the artwork no longer appears significantly changed then the value and/or sale price will not be negatively affected either.
It is also important to note that if damage happens to a painting, and the owner takes steps to rectify the issues, it may complicate a claim they make to their insurers. In plain terms, if they make the damage worse and cause more restoration to be required, then the claim may only pay so far as the initial damage or risk becoming void. Any remaining costs will need to be covered by the individual.
We always strongly recommend that any restoration work is carried out by a proven professional conservation team. This will guarantee peace of mind to the client and ensure that there is no unnecessary stress, nasty surprises, escalation of costs and further damage to artworks.