How to care for damaged art

A work of art can be damaged for all sorts of reasons. It can get knocked when being transported, ripped or chipped accidentally, vandalised or simply wear over time.

While keeping works of fine art in a storage facility will reduce the instances of it being exposed to the elements and/or tarnished – which is advisable when a painting or sculpture is not in use – it is anticipated that most of the time, it will be on show.

There are however plenty of solutions to all sorts of predicaments collectors may find themselves in, allowing them to return their favourite works to their former glory, such is the skill that goes into art repair and conservation.

There is a residual impact

Though a damaged work of art can achieve the seemingly impossible – huge gashes repaired, dents and even graffiti marks that have seeped deep into the canvas eradicated – the fact of the matter is that it is no longer what it once was.

In other words, because it has incurred some form of alien damage – as opposed to natural, detrimental ageing – makes it a spoilt work. The use of ‘spoilt’ isn’t to suggest that it is ruined – far from it – but financially it will have lost some of its market value.

Consider it this way, as a buyer you want to know the work’s provenance – who has owned it, where has it been, what damage has been done to it, who restored it, etc. The answer to all of these questions determines whether you invest in it.

Don’t attempt to restore it yourself

Restoration and conservation is, quite simply put, an art form. You are having to mimic the techniques, palate and nous of seasoned artists, and much in the same way as a metaphorical sentence can never fully reveal an author’s intentions, a particular brushstroke can be loaded with meaning.

“There’s no magic elixir or special potions for taking care of works of art,” Perry Huston, a private art conservator in Houston, Texas, told the Huffington Post in 2011.

“However, it does take judgement and experience and years of training one’s eye. You can’t just decide to clean or repair a work of art and think that you don’t need any professional help. People like myself are trained for many years to know what to do and how it should be done.”

Get expert help

There are certain areas of life that are often beyond our reach, be it fixing a boiler, a car fault or computer defect.

We can mitigate disaster, definitely, and do enough to remedy small problems – reset the boiler, replace a flat tyre and clean excess data from a hard drive – but when it comes to bigger problems, it requires the knowledge and expertise of specialists.

The same applies to art. A seasoned professional will usually conduct an in-depth assessment of your work and identify the immediate problems that you are aware of and also spot other, emerging issues that will need to be addressed at some stage.

Afterwards, and in consultation with you, a treatment plan will be devised, one that is usually bespoke. And then it is a waiting game, one that can be nerve-racking, but so long as you’ve sourced a reliable individual or organisation, an absent feeling that you know will soon be replaced by one of utter glee.

A final reminder of what not to do

Never attempt to repaint the work of art. It might be a watercolour painting, suggesting you use those exact materials, but perhaps the artist incorporated other products into their palate.

To keep works of art looking fresh, do not hang them in direct sunlight, which will colour the canvas and speed up the ageing process.

Do not use any sort of chemical when cleaning the work in question, a rule that applies for both the front and back. Paper and canvasses are both very absorbent materials.

While it may make sense to house some paintings behind a frame, leave this to experts who are capable of creating a suitable ‘breathing space’ between the work and the glass.


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