A Bit about mending broken paintings

A Bit about mending broken paintings

Recently in the news there was a write-up about a person accidentally damaging a Picasso painting, the lady who remains unidentified (Wouldn’t you want to be too?!) was an art student who was at the time visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York where the painting was hanging on display. The artwork titled ‘The Actor’ received a 15cm long gash to it when the woman managed to somehow fall into it! Some experts say that the damage is repairable, but it’s highly unlikely the painting will ever recover its original value of $130 million US dollars; in fact it may well now be worth only half that amount. I doubt they will be taking her to small claims court anytime soon….imagine having to pay that sort of sum off, a thing of nightmares isn’t it!

The Actor’ painted in 1904 is a work from Picasso’s Rose period; it is of an acrobat striking a pose and measures approximately 1.2metres by 1.8metres in size. The artwork, which was donated to the Metropolitan in 1952, it has hung safely in a second-floor gallery there until this incident, I do wonder if this will impact on viewers getting up close and personal with such works in the future, because lets face it, who is going to cover such dramatic losses if this sort of thing happens regularly. Sadly we may see more of these precious artworks behind layers of glass like the Mona Lisa is, such a shame really.

 When it comes to repairing torn or damaged artworks, it’s best left up to the professionals, especially works of high value. But what do you do if it’s your work or like for me, working in a commercial gallery where it happens sometimes that an artwork gets knocked by a customer and a hole is made in it, or the surface is damaged in some other way?

The first step for me is to notify the artist to see what they want to do, some want to fix it themselves (This is the best option in that any repainting done is done by the artist themselves so its still all their work.) while others request that we either scrap the work or that someone here fixes it. Luckily I have done quite a bit of this sort of work and most small damages are repairable.

For holes in canvases, it’s best to have them repaired from the back, and as long as the hole or tear isn’t too large and meets together, you can stick it back together with a complimentary colour of paint around the torn adding a small piece of canvas to hold it all together. It works kind of like a plaster on a wound and the paint makes it stick well. While drying check the front that there is no seepage of paint through the hole but enough to stick everything together and then with tweezers replace all the canvas fibres back into line again.

Place the canvas facedown on a smooth flat surface and put something heavy on the canvas patch, then leave it to dry. It is really important at this stage that there is no paint coming through the front or it will stick the painting to the surface it is flat against and then you are up for more repair work!

When your artwork is dry you can repaint the damaged area back to its original condition.

There are ways and means to fix other types of work as well, but its best to take them to a professional restorer to ask what can be done before attempting a repair yourself and I cannot stress enough however, that it is important to not attempt such repairs on work that is of value, you really must leave it to the professionals.

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Posted: Friday 19 March 2010


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