Preserving art work

FACL work in progress

A painting by Granville Redmond in the process of being cleaned by Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory.

Every month, I am contacted by people who want to sell their artwork. So many times, sellers think that a painting should get top dollar because of the artist, but never think to consider how the overall condition of the piece affects the value of the painting and ultimately the price a buyer is willing to pay. I know this seems a strange comparison, but I like to think of selling paintings much like selling fine collector cars. A car with dents, scratches and faded paint won’t bring as much at market as the same car, with no dents, no scratches and paint in original pristine condition. Just like fine cars, to command top dollar, paintings have to be maintained throughout their lifetimes.

When a gallery considers selling a painting for a client everything is taken into consideration: the condition of the painting and even the frame. If a frame is dented or scratched or so out-of-date, someone has to pay to replace it, either the gallery or the seller. Something as simple as pressing a painted canvas against a knee will cause craquelure to emerge in that spot, in a round shape, five years later. If a painting is covered with a layer of cigarette tar, over a layer of yellowed varnish, someone has to pay to transport it and clean it. A dirty painting will sit on a gallery wall and the only way to move it will be to cut the price. That is why it is so important to treat your paintings well while you enjoy them on the wall. Taking care of your artwork not only extends the life of the piece but increases or maintains its value.

Like cars and homes, paintings are subject to the fluctuations of the market. Right now, the overall art market is fairly depressed with sales fluctuating, and some areas hit harder than others. Over the past five years, I have watched numerous galleries close their doors forever and because of this the outlets for selling art are shrinking. We all have turned to the web to create a greater presence and increase visibility for the work we carry but is the internet the best way to see a traditional work of art, to get a real feel for its colors and textures?

The point of my writing this article is to provide some education to potential sellers. I use one place to do my art restoration and that is Fine Art Conservation Laboratory in Santa Barbara. I have worked with Scott Haskins for many years. His experience is extensive. His additional website Tips for Fine Art Collectors and Facebook page, Save your Stuff, provide a plethora of valuable information that every collector can use to maintain the integrity of their most prized art pieces. In addition, he produced a series of wonderful videos on various preservation subjects that are fascinating to watch one of which I’ve included one here on blacklighting.

Interestingly, what I learned from Scott is how an artist’s own methods, the use of materials and mediums can effect the longevity of a painting. Over the years, as he has worked on various pieces by different artists, he knows which mediums have contributed to the aging process of a particular artist’s work just by discovering what it takes to restore that artist’s work. It is amazing how many artists are unfamiliar with the chemical properties of mediums and what happens when those mediums are combined. There’s not much a collector can do about how an artist has mixed their mediums, but years later as the paint and varnish age, a skilled conservationist can stabilize the work, maintaining value and adding life.

Remember. A painting is a lot like a face. Too much sun and cigarette smoke will age it prematurely and a total facelift can be expensive.
– Wynne Benti

©2012 Wynne Benti/Coons Gallery
Video ©2012 Scott Haskins/FACL. Used with permission.

Wynne Benti, gallery owner and publisher, has worked in art & design since 1974. She studied Fine Art at University of California Davis (BA) with Wayne Thiebaud, Roy DeForest, Roland Peterson and Harvey Himelfarb as well as graphic design at Art Center College of Design (BFA).

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