Can a previously restored painting be restored again?
Every painting has a history. From an artwork’s origins to its current condition, paintings are often passed between art collectors, family members or to a gallery or museum.
Understandably, some paintings have a more turbulent history than others and there are clear signs into what that history has been and whether a painting has ever required past restoration. There may be a patch on the back of the canvas where a tear has been repaired or evidence of retouches under UV light.
It is not infrequent for us to receive paintings into the studio that have previously been restored. A key question we are often asked is whether anything can be done if a painting has already been restored once before.
Each painting is assessed individually before undergoing any further restoration work. It is important to consider the stability of the artwork and what the previous restoration has entailed.
It is sometimes the case that a painting will come to us to reverse previous restoration work that has been amateurishly done. A recent example (see our case study for full details), was for a painting that had been crudely ‘lined’ with adhesive onto a pillow case. By removing the painting from the pillow case, we were able to carry out a comprehensive restoration and provide full stabilisation to the artwork.
Paintings that have previously had tear repairs completed also occasionally come into the studio. If a repair that has been carried out is not entirely seamless and, when finished, has paint applied causing the surface of the painting to be raised, the restoration can appear very unsightly.
Alternatively, another restoration we recently rectified was for a tear repair where the sides of the tear were misaligned when brought back together. This was particularly noticeable as the affected area was a patch of writing.
If a painting has been re-lined already and has sustained damage, it is important to ascertain whether the damage has affected the original canvas layer or the newer canvas. For example, if the newer canvas has been torn, the tear should be repairable without removing this lining. If the original top canvas layer with the artwork on is torn, but the newer canvas is intact, this presents more problems possibly requiring the newer canvas layer to need removing to be able to reach the original canvas. Again, the individual requirements of the painting should be assessed to determine the correct course of action.
Before our conservators begin restoration, looking at a painting under UV light gives an indication of whether previous restoration has occurred, particularly with regards to prior retouching. Discoloured varnish can obscure past retouching, which have been required if there have been losses caused by flaking paint or damage. As such, it is only when our conservators begin restoration that the extent to which retouching has occurred becomes evident. It is often at the varnish removal stage of the restoration, when the retouching is also removed and the prior losses are revealed. These losses can be carefully reinstated, after sympathetic pigment matching against the original paint layer.
In each of these cases, the individual assessment of the artwork will be able to determine what has caused previous restoration, the treatments that have been carried out and if/how we are able to further help. It is vital to maintain the integrity of the painting while carefully conserving for the future.