Why Art Dealers Use Art Restoration to Improve Sale Prices

By Senior Conservator Peggy Van Witt

© 2010 Peggy Van Witt. All Rights Reserved.

The art world and the business world have developed a healthy, symbiotic relationship over the past few centuries. Like any other business, many people in the art world have sought to find unique and clever means of making a profit off of others’ often missed opportunities. Art dealers are located in the center of this world. Art dealers serve as the middlemen between painting and client, between artist and payment, between a hot seller and a money pit. Art dealers have an eye for what will sell and what will not. This distinction is not always obvious.

Many paintings and pieces of artwork brought to art dealers, or purchased by art dealers is not in prime condition. Some of it has sat in an attic or above a fireplace for the past hundred years, while some of it has been damaged with smoke, water or physical stress. Art restoration and art repair have become invaluable tools to the modern day art dealer. Art restoration used in this setting by art dealers increases the value of a large variety of artwork.

Increasing the value of artwork is usually an intangible process performed slowly by the hands of father time. It’s a simple concept: frequently, the older the artwork, the higher its value.

This industry standard is by no means applicable to all situations and settings—many modern paintings sell for a great deal more money than their antiquated counterparts. However, a good deal of the time, this concept holds steady. We can conclude from this that dealing art can be an old, dusty mess. Art conservation, art repair, and most of all, art conservation are the tools used to combat the unfriendly hands of father time.

When an art dealer first encounters a piece of art, whether it be a painting, statue, sculpture, ceramic piece or textile piece, the first question he/she will ask themselves is: “How can I make the highest possible profit from this piece of artwork?” A fair majority of the time, the answer to this question is: art restoration. Art restoration is an art dealer’s way to increase the value of art. Restored art often holds a higher value than artwork which has not been restored.

Art restoration is a complicated, yet surprisingly simple process. It’s helpful to think of art restoration as a type of art makeover. It’s helpful to begin with an example. If you have a painting you think may be worth a decent amount of money, you may decide to take that particular piece of art to an art dealer. In this example, the item of mention is a painting which has been hanging idly above a fireplace for the past seventy years. You take this painting to an art dealer. He/she informs you that the painting is worth approximately $500. You are surprised that this painting can catch such a sum, and accept the art dealer’s offer of $500 for the painting. While you are thinking you have walked away with an amazing deal on some formerly worthless family heirloom, the art dealer is patting himself on the back.

While to you, the painting looked dim, discolored, dark and a bit depressing, the art dealer knows better. He/she knows that with the magic of art restoration, the painting can be transformed from its present condition to something almost unrecognizable.

Art restoration involves many steps. The first is to correct any misdoings by a previous art restorer. It then moves on to correcting any physical damage, and in the instance of a painting, correcting color and hue and applying new varnish to protect the painting from further damage.

In the case of a darkened painting hung over a fireplace for the past seventy years, it may just need varnish removed to remove dust, soot and ash and it’s almost like the original artist intended. An art dealer can see through the dirt and grime of your painting and know that once fully restored via the magic of art restoration, it will look new—he/she also knows that it will fetch a significantly higher price than $500.

Although art restoration does cost money… it is an investment in future profits. For your painting, you were offered $500. The art dealer paid perhaps $200 to have it cleaned. He will most likely sell the painting for $1000, double what you were offered. This leaves the art dealer with a profit of $300, demonstrating an increased value of restored art. Art restoration has shown to not only transform the aesthetics of paintings and other artwork, but has been shown to increase the value of restored artwork as well.

The extreme subjective nature of artwork makes buying and selling artwork, restored or not, a very interesting endeavor. Art dealers have an eye, but what they deem as significant and valuable, other dealers might scoff at. This makes art restoration a tricky endeavor. Most art dealers hope this will benefit sale prices, but if the artwork they deem valuable is not seen as such by a prospective buyer, the art dealer will have lost a significant amount of money, not only on the artwork itself, but on the art restoration endeavor as well.