restoration

Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Art Conservation

National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London

While we absolutely hate to see it, damaged artwork it is a reality that we encounter from time to time. Whether it is a torn painting, a broken frame, or a dusty dirty textile, artwork can be greatly susceptible to damage if not properly protected, stored or shipped (check out our recommendations for treating your objects with care here). Luckily, we have relationships with top level art conservators that help our clients navigate these situations. 

What is the purpose of art conservation?

Art and object conservation refers to the scientific practice and profession of preserving artwork and artifacts from deterioration and repairing damage that has occurred. The primary aim of art conservation is to stabilize the work from further damage while retaining the maximum amount of original material, and secondary is to improve the appearance of the work of art. Art conservators use precise techniques to clean, repair, reassemble and at times restore works of art that have been damaged from time, environment stresses or accidents. Conservators also employ techniques for preventative conservation and scientific technology such as x-ray imaging to study artwork. 

What is the difference between conservation, restoration and preservation? 

The Art Conservator's Alliance explains these terms in detail:

"Art conservation includes principles and practices of technical examination, documentation, and treatment for objects of material culture. The intention of art conservation is to improve the condition of an artifact by stabilizing physical condition problems and addressing surface disfigurement arising from deterioration and/or damage. In doing so, the art conservator strives to retain as much original material as possible and to employ the best quality materials and the most carefully considered methods available."

"At times a conservation treatment also requires restoration, which is defined as the preparation and incorporation of replacement parts and surface finishes (i.e. 'compensation for losses') to allow proper visual interpretation of an art object and to recapture an acceptable esthetic appearance..."

"Another often-used term is preservation, which encompasses all of the varied activities involved in preventing damage and reducing the rate of deterioration for art objects, collections, and structures."

http://www.artconservatorsalliance.com/what_is.html

Want to learn more?

Here is a great link to a glossary of conservation terms compiled by the Smithsonian Institute:  https://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/painting_glossary.html

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