How to restore miniature portraits

An interesting question we are often asked is ‘Which paintings are the largest and most complex you have restored?’.

When we receive a 7ft by 3ft painting into the studio with tears and in need of lining, it’s an exciting challenge for all of our team. 

But the other end of the scale can be just as interesting – particularly in the form of miniature paintings.

When a painting is so delicate and small, they are fantastic to have in the studio. They are not only feats of artistic achievement, but a different sort of challenge for our conservators.

This may leave you wondering; can miniature paintings even be restored? When they are so small, can anything realistically be done?

These are frequent questions we are asked and so have happily answered below!

Are miniature portraits too small to be restored?

Because of the small size and delicate nature of miniature portraits, it is very understandable that we are asked whether anything can be done to restore them.

If you are a collector of miniature portraits, you can be assured that we can – and have – very successfully restored miniature portraits.

Even though these items are much smaller than the usual painting we restore, we can still apply the same techniques, and use custom-size tools to complete the work.

How are they restored?

Miniature paintings can be completed on various substrates, particularly on panel, copper, canvas and paper.

They are more likely to be on panel and copper as they need to have a solid backing. If they are painted on canvas, the canvas will likely be attached to panel. Miniature paintings need to be kept well tensioned because they are unable to be stretched in the same way as most easel paintings using stretcher bars.

Many of the issues facing larger easel paintings will not apply to miniatures. Miniature paintings  normally do not have the same structural issues as larger paintings, which is a bonus of their size and most are carefully kept behind glass.

If a miniature painting did receive some structural damage such as a tear, it can be repaired in the same way as any easel painting. For canvas, this will be using a thread-by-thread method and bonding, and with miniatures on paper, we can fill a hole or tear using liquid paper pulp and carefully retouch. 

For the miniature Tudor portrait on panel below, it required a surface clean, consolidation of flaking paint, and then filling and retouching of losses. As you can see from the progress made across treatment stages, the overall result is fantastic.

Miniatures can be fully cleaned with excellent results, and we can remove staining and acid damage if the miniature is on paper. Surface cleaning can also achieve a fantastic difference for copper paintings, as seen in the painting below.

Miniature paintings on copper can provide more challenges for our conservators, due to the characteristics of the metal. 

The biggest problem for works on copper is contact with water. Exposure to water leads to oxidation and rusting, causing the copper to be weakened and extensively damaged. They are also very fragile – if they are knocked out of shape it is not possible to flatten them back out. You can read our helpful article for more about restoring paintings on copper and the challenges they face.

​Whether it’s a life-sized or miniature portrait, we can always succesfully treat all manner and sizes of artwork, with the same excellent results.

If there is anything more you would like to know about miniature portrait restoration, feel free to contact us and send your questions. 

If you would like our recommendations and advice on your miniature portrait, please contact us for our no-obligation help.

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