By Senior Conservator Peggy Van Witt
© 2010 Peggy Van Witt. All Rights Reserved.
Restoring artwork is an art in and of itself. For hundreds of years, people have sought to restore historical artwork via art restoration for various reasons. Whether this means carefully swabbing pockets of dust caught in the impasto or paint layer of the work, or piecing together fragments of a fallen marble statue, the means of restoring artwork to alter its value are varied and hotly debated. Alteration of the artwork’s value (art restoration) is often the central motive behind restoration. Increasing the value of a historical piece of artwork is often difficult without restoration.
Restoration usually improves a piece of artwork’s value. However, most artwork in need of restoration is ancient and historical and has often suffered the degradation of time, thus negatively impacting its current value in the art market. Most historical artwork, whether it is a painting, mural, statue, or artifact, is in need of some type of restoration. Because artwork of this nature has inherited its value due to withstanding the tests of time, reversing its effects are often essential to improving the historical artwork’s value.
Much of the damage to historical or antique art is due to improper conservation or storage practices. Paintings, one of the most common art forms to undergo restoration, fall victim to an array of problems. Spending years hanging in the foyer or above the family fireplace, paintings will eventually show signs of wear and tear over the years. Some of the most common problems associated with improper painting storage or conservation techniques include discoloration, dullness and yellowing. The causes of such symptoms may be light exposure, extremely arid or moist conditions, smoke, air pollution, or any other type of contaminant lingering in the air. More severe progressive problems, such as mold, mildew, or insect damage must also be assessed and corrected during a proper restoration of the artwork.
For an art collector, a painting exhibiting such attributes will be valued much less than a painting which has been restored properly. For many pieces of art, art restoration is merely an aesthetic improvement, increasing the pizzazz which may have been lost or compromised over time. But for other artwork, restoration is an essential component in preserving and conserving its beauty, functionality and historical integrity. If a painting has been exposed to a humid climate for a substantial period of time, it is very likely that the canvas of the painting is plagued with threatening mold spores or mildew. Left unaddressed or untreated, the mold or mildew can eat away at the paint pigments until even the most skilled art conservator will have difficulty reversing the damage.
The first step in improving the value of a historical piece of art through restoration involves the work of an experienced, professional art conservator. Whether restoring artwork is aesthetic or functional in nature, it is very likely that the restoration will improve the value of the artwork. Materials used hundreds of years ago were not formulated to stand the tests of time, thus expediting the degradation process of the artwork. Therefore it is important to remove all harmful chemicals, oxidizing organic substances, and yellowed varnishes or pollutants from the artwork before they further devalue the painting. Once removed, a skilled restoration artist can carefully restore the artwork to closely resemble its original condition. Many art conservators will apply a proper protective coatings to preserve the restored condition of the artwork and to prevent further discoloration, dullness, chipping, flaking or yellowing.
Restoring a piece of artwork can be costly. Many art world experts recommend against restoring a painting or piece of art worth less than $700 – the cost of the art restoration could supersede the actual market value of the painting or piece of art. Obtaining a proper appraisal is an essential first step in art restoration. Because the value of art is highly subjective, appraisal values may vary greatly. It is therefore vital to seek out several appraisals before tackling the restoration of a piece of artwork. Pricing by art restoration artists also tends to vary a great deal. Many art restoration artists hold degrees in this practice, so checking the background of an artist is important. Paying a bit more to acquire the services of a highly skilled restoration artist may increase the value of a piece of artwork more than an artist who charges less.
However, many paintings restored are owned by private families wishing to improve the ‘enjoyability’ of a family heirloom, with no intention of improving its market value. In this case, improving the functionality and aesthetics of the piece of art are a part of family history and are set apart from the business of making money in the art world through the restoration of antiquated artwork.