The art of restoration: Preserving treasures with expert care

Embarking on a do-it-yourself restoration journey or entrusting a valuable artwork or unique piece of furniture to an unqualified restorer is a perilous decision that can irreversibly damage your prized possessions, rendering them virtually worthless

Rather than risking such a fate, it is advisable to seek the expertise of professionals to mend the ravages of time or unforeseen accidents.

Condition matters: The value of art in its prime

Determining the reasonable worth of a work of art hinges significantly on its condition. While prevention is ideal—such as avoiding hanging oil paintings near hot fireplaces, keeping watercolors away from direct sunlight, and protecting bronze sculptures from chlorine near pools—unforeseen damage or deterioration may occur. In such cases, seeking advice and engaging the right professional becomes paramount. Leigh Leyde, a research specialist at auction house Strauss & Co, emphasises that serious collectors shy away from poorly restored works, underscoring the importance of selecting the right expert.

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Specialised skills in art conservation

Art conservation and restoration require a unique skill set, and choosing the right conservator for your particular treasure is critical. Leyde warns against the temptation of relying on a simple Google search for “art restoration,” emphasising that conservators are highly skilled professionals with international degrees at master’s level. These experts specialise, focusing on either paintings on canvas or works on paper, but not both.

Each restoration is a nuanced process, and only an expert can precisely assess the required intervention without overdoing it. The value of a work often lies in preserving the “hand” of the original artist, and an overly enthusiastic restorer can compromise authenticity and, consequently, value. Leyde stresses the ease with which an artwork can be irreparably damaged by an unskilled restorer.

Art conservation: A fusion of art and science

Art conservation is a melding of art and science, demanding a deep understanding of art history, chemistry, and, in the case of sculpture, engineering. Top restorers stay abreast of the latest trends in international conservation practice, prioritising reversible work that avoids permanent interventions. Leyde notes that advancements in materials science offer better restoration techniques, emphasizing the importance of careful, time-consuming work.

Choosing wisely: The South African context

South Africa boasts a small pool of knowledgeable art restorers, and Leyde advises seeking referrals from auction houses or art dealers to gauge a conservator’s track record. Flashy websites provide no guarantee of competence, making a conservator’s past works the true measure of their capabilities. Strauss & Co maintains a database of reputable restorers for recommendations.

Image supplied by Strauss and Co

In conclusion, Leyde issues a stern warning against attempting art restoration independently, irrespective of the artwork’s value. Instead, she advocates reaching out to professionals at Strauss & Co for guidance, ensuring that your cherished pieces receive the expert care they deserve.

Five tips that will help preserve and conserve your collection:

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  1. Hang work out of direct sunlight. Sunlight can fade colour and speed up the natural oxidisation of paper, so making sure your work is hung out of direct contact with sunlight will ensure your work remains in good condition.
  2. Make sure you check regularly for dampness in the walls of your home.
  3. Use framers who use archival framing practices with acid free material so that your artwork is archivally framed.
  4. If your collection needs to be stored seek storage facilities that are temperature and humidity controlled.
  5. Keep all record as and when you add a new artwork to your collection. Sale records, gallery documents, exhibition history and important inclusions in publications can all contribute to the artwork’s provenance and future successful sale when you are ready to offer the work on auction again.


For more info visit Strauss & Co



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