A great work of art has certain timeless elements – the genius that creates it, the themes it expresses, the reactions it inspires. But the work itself isn’t timeless at all. It is an assemblage of physical components that are highly vulnerable to time and catastrophe.
Natural resins, such as damar or mastic, were commonly used to varnish paintings. While having some excellent properties, these resins have a tendency to oxidize and discolor over time. Through conservation, these resins can be safely removed, revealing the true underlying image.
Dirt and Grime
Often the image of an artwork is completely hidden beneath a dark layer, which is simply the accumulation of years of everyday life. Fossil fuel emissions, pollution, tobacco smoke, dirt, dust and grime can transform what was once a vibrant and colorful image into one that is dark, dull and spatially flat. Proper cleaning brings the artwork back to what the artist intended us to see.
Holes and Tears
Most tears and holes result from accidental impact in storage, handling and shipping. They are often of such great concern to clients that they consider them beyond repair. While the image may be marred, and the canvas badly torn, a painting can be brought back to an integral state with the appearance of never having been damaged.
Fluctuations in temperature and humidity are the main variables that contribute to flaking of the paint layer. As well, improper coatings, direct contact with water, and even the artist’s own technique and use of materials can contribute to this common problem. Once the paint layer begins to detach from the underlying support or ground, the process can continue and eventually lead to paint loss. This condition is halted through consolidation measures, which are treatments that reattach the paint back to its support. This can either be done locally or to the entire paint layer, depending on the extent of damage.
“Overpaint” is a term we use to describe unoriginal paint. It is often associated with a previous restoration, where a correction was overdone. It is usually found to be covering only small areas of paint loss. Oil repainting is a common challenge. Eventually, these areas will darken and completely mismatch the original work. Most overpaint can be safely removed, revealing the “truth” underneath.
Even paintings that appear ruined by paint loss can be conserved. Paint losses are corrected with precision filling materials, and then expertly color matched to the surrounding area. This type of treatment is very technical and controlled and limited to the areas of actual loss, so that none of the compensations cover any original paint. All compensation materials are completely reversible for conservation purposes.