The way artworks are created can sometimes lead to issues which will require some form of restoration. Our clients are surprised when we explain the cause of the damage and why treatment is needed as it is not something they would expect.
If an artist uses unusual and unstable materials or prepares their painting in a non-traditional way, this is when problems appear. We have recently worked on two paintings with such issues.
The first painting 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. Now restored, the painting should not cause further issues.
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.
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 not just the materials (or lack of) used that provide challenges. The substrate an artwork is created on including canvas, paper, panel and copper can have their own 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.
For those involved in insurance claims relating to artworks, it is important to be mindful that these issues may be the cause of claims rather than from an incident.
By understanding how their artwork has been created and the challenges they may potentially face, clients can take practical steps to minimise any damage. We can successfully treat paintings where such problems have arisen.