A fine QUESTION art OF... conservation
Damaged artworks can be restored safely, says ANTHONY SMITH, just don’t try it at home
Ideally your efforts will never even be noticed
NOW, THE most important rule in fine art conservation and restoration is that it never, ever, falls within the realm of DIY!
To be a conservator of fine art you need the patience of a saint, the concentration of a neurosurgeon and the humility of a Buddhist monk. Why?
Fine art conservation is a calling that requires not only skill and technical ability but is one where you, as a highly skilled and trained artist in your own right, forsake your own originality to put yourself in the mind and use the skills and techniques of the original artist to enable you to restore an artwork to as near to the original work the artist created.
The process can be incredibly time-consuming, involving intense concentration. Often, as you are working, additional issues appear and need to be fixed prior to continuing. Ideally your efforts will never even be noticed, as that is part of the true skill of a conservator. You almost become the original artist, even one who may have been working 300 or more years ago.
Yet there have been some tragic and, sadly, hilarious attempts at conservation and thanks to the internet, we are able to see these disasters. The most recent case that springs to mind is that done by a local artist in the Spanish village of Borja in 2012. Even though the original was a 20th century fresco, thankfully not a renaissance work, the ‘restorer’ successfully repainted a depiction of Christ to resemble a potato head character. Simply atrocious, but comical at the same time.
Very occasionally we hear of conservators who were so talented that they then became forgers. but perhaps this is a discussion for another time.
So when do you possibly need to use a conservator? Most often it is when a painting is damaged; perhaps it falls when a picture hook snaps, or when an umbrella pierces a canvas, or perhaps a spill stains a work or even a work you have had for years just seems dull, possibly as the varnish has aged and been yellowed by smoke.
Today, almost every calamity you can imagine can be fixed by experts. Here in Norfolk we have some very fine restorers and if you are in doubt or need some advice, there is always Icon, the Institute of Conservation (icon.org.uk) who are able to offer advice and direct you to a suitably qualified professional.
So if you have a work that is looking a little unloved or forlorn due to damage, do consider having it looked at. There’s no obligation and you may be pleasantly surprised at the cost and undoubtedly with the result.