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A Note From Bruce Wood:
Here are the answers to some questions I get quite often:
1/ I have a painting which could use cleaning, but I've heard that restoration on an oil painting or
other work may devalue the painting. Is there any truth to this?
Cleaning and restoration are two different things. First, cleaning is a good thing. It adds value, like polishing a diamond would. In fact, paintings and jewelry are the only two classes of antiques which benefit from cleaning (to my knowledge.)
Restoration also is a good thing, if done to current museum standards. Over the years, restoration has received a bad reputation because of the many unqualified and/or unskilled people calling themselves restorers. Their main fault, aside from using questionable methods, has been wholesale retouching, instead of in-painting. Retouching generally means covering over areas of old paint with new paint. In-painting means adding paint only where it is missing. For example if there is a scratch in the paint, a retoucher would paint over it and also paint over the adjacent areas to blend it in. An in-painter would add paint only to the scratch, with as little overlap onto the original paint layer as possible.
2/ I have heard of using a black light to determine if color has been added to a painting which would also devalue its worth.
Here is where the difference between retouching and in-painting is critical. UV lights are a handy tool to detect repairs, but keep in mind that they are not infallible. If the UV light shows large areas of retouching, it is possible that the painting's value would be less than a similar work in original condition. If the light shows in-painting, or scattered small areas of repair, the value is generally not discounted (sort-of depends on how critical the damage was.) Repairs like lining to strengthen a canvas (when done well) also do not usually detract from value.
Consider this: Every major museum has a conservation department to restore and clean paintings. Most, if not all of the masterpieces on display have been cleaned and re-varnished, and have some degree of invisible restoration.
So, the short answer is: Cleaning and restoration, when done to museum standards, actually adds value to an oil painting.
I hope this helps your future art-care decisions. -Bruce
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