cleaning a painting decisions for art collectors: valuable tips and info
Post on 15-Mar-2016
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DESCRIPTIONClean this painting? Vintage oil painting by E. Rosco Shrader is evaluated for cleaning even though its already been cleaned.
Valuable Info for Art Collectors about Cleaning a Painting
As a painting conservator, I was recently invited to inspect a painting by E. Rosco Shrader (1879-1960) that is part of the painting collection at Hollywood High School in CA, to determine if the painting was in good shape. Its a real shame that George Stern Fine Arts, the art dealer that put together the retrospective exhibitions for Shrader in the Fall of 2012 and E. Rosco Shrader's own family represented by the artist's grandson, Ed Shrader didn't know about this painting so it could be included in the gorgeous catalog that was produced (The Art and Life of Edwin Roscoe Shrader). If you would like to see a short video on the exhibition see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa0Edf0dnh8 (give it a THUMBS UP and comment?!).
E. Rosco Shrader was, in case you don't know, an excellent artist whose influence was felt by 1000's of artists in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s (some of them became very well known) as a long standing Director of the Otis Art Institute. Because of his commitment to teaching, this meant that he painted for pleasure and personal satisfaction mostly. This lends, I believe, a certain professional and intellectual purity or honesty to his art. This painting was one of his more complicated larger pieces among those that I've seen. For those of you that don't know, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories was the art conservator for the estate which consisted of 100's of paintings. So, we know paintings by
E. Rosco Shrader.
Before my arrival at Hollywood High, I was told this painting was cleaned in 2003 so I wasn't expecting to see a painting in need of much TLC. As we agreed, the school's representative had taken down the painting off the wall (hanging next to a nice Paul Lauritz) 15 feet high up where it hangs in the library. A nice feature is that the painting still has its original frame (refinished nicely in 2003). The painting is in excellent condition. But there’s "a rub" that all art collector's should know about:
As is often the case, the previous cleaning may have transfigured the painting from its old dull look and removal of the easy-to-remove yellowed varnish and grime may have seemed to result in beautiful colors. But sometimes, as is the case on this painting, there is left behind a harder more obstinate layer of discoloration... in this case a harder gray varnish that didn't come off with the first cleaning. The result is a muted palette compared to what would have been considered Shrader's intent.
To see the photo of this painting see: http://tipsforfineartcollectors.org/cleaning/e-rosco-shrader-condition-question/
We see this all the time in our painting conservation lab. Either this hard gray layer is left behind because the person doing the cleaning doesn't see it or the cost of the more indepth cleaning didn't fit in the budget. Because there was a color improvement from the more superficial cleaning, then perhaps that was considered good enough. Removing the hard gray layer can often increase the cleaning budget by double... sometimes more if the original colors are sensitive. And, we have all seen paintings that were damaged when the cleaning was pushed too far by an inept person.
This harder underlying layer is often the result of 20th century artists adding linseed oil to their varnish... or coating the painting with linseed oil after they are done. But, let me also throw out a caution: I have seen unethical restorers use the removal of the hard gray varnish layer as an excuse to charge double or triple the appropriate amount even when such a condition doesn't exist. It is not unreasonable that you ask to see that this layer exists and also that you see a cleaning test that its removal can be done safely.
As a collector, you are the art curator of your art collection and these decisions are yours to make. Best wishes.
Scott M. Haskins, Conservator of Fine Art805 564 [email protected]
For more insights into condition issues to consider when buying oil paintings for sale see http://www.tipsforartcollectors.org
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