how to restore a painting
January 17, 2006 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Art Restoration : I have an old oil-painting that is pretty grungy due to decades of living with smokers and hanging near a fireplace. I'd like to get it cleaned, but I don't know the first thing about a) finding a restorer, and b) what I can expect to pay to have the work done.

The painting is in otherwise fine shape. No cracks or blemishes or paintloss. The painting is 22x36. I live near Washington DC if that makes any difference.
posted by crunchland to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
Maybe I should have said "finding a reliable restorer." I mean, I can open the yellow pages as well as the next guy.
posted by crunchland at 7:57 AM on January 17, 2006

According to the book "How to think like a collector" by Rinker, once you find some restorers, ask to see some of their completed restorations. Ask to talk to some of their previous customers. Ask to see some of their works in progress and their workshop.

For recommendations, the best recommendations would probably come from the local art museum, but they would probably come out as the most expensive.
posted by dial-tone at 8:05 AM on January 17, 2006

Is there a gallery district in Washington DC? I'm thinking of something equivalent to Newbury Street in Boston. If so, a walk up and down the street talking to gallery owners could get you some good pointers.
posted by alms at 8:28 AM on January 17, 2006

You might see if any of the local educational institutions teach art restoration and check with the appropriate department. I had quick look at but couldn't find any such classes there.

I suspect the Smithsonian does restoration in-house but it might be worth calling them for recommendations.
posted by exogenous at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2006

You're looking for a painting conservator. The Smithsonian does do their restoration in house and has a huge conservation department; you might try calling the National Gallery and asking to speak to a paintings conservator. They will probably refer you to the library and a copy of the directory of American conservators. Or you can check here.

If you want to try cleaning it yourself, use spit. Seriously. Spit has enzymes that dissolve dirts but won't harm the paint or the varnish. Take cotton swabs, spit on them and gently clean it small area by small area.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:38 AM on January 17, 2006

No, don't use spit. Call a professional. Check with the painting curators at art museums in your area. They have support staff who would be happy to point you in the right direction (I've done this many times myself). If you don't mind sending the painting away for restoration, I highly recommend the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis. They do spectacular work, but aren't cheap if that is a consideration.
posted by ScottUltra at 11:22 AM on January 17, 2006

I would contact these folks and see if they can offer references or even advice for doing it yourself.

Just my two cents . . . if it's worth restoring/cleaning it's worth doing it right. If you don't feel comfortable with a conservator or with the advice you receive, get a second opinion.
posted by annaramma at 1:39 PM on January 17, 2006

Sorry, I meant that link to read Washington Conservation Guild.
posted by annaramma at 1:40 PM on January 17, 2006

RE: how much it will cost. Anyone can claim to be a restorer, they will probably be a bit cheaper but will still be costly. A conservator will cost the most. Either way, it will cost you alot of money to get the painting restored.
posted by dial-tone at 2:12 PM on January 17, 2006

Well, as it ends up, I followed a link off of a link off of a link provided above, and found a conservator in Richmond who will look at my painting next week for free and evaluate its condition. He gave me a rough estimate of $600 to $800 based on the size and condition that he could tell from some pictures I emailed him.

Based on a google search I did, the guy I spoke with on the phone today used to work with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and afterwards, when he started his own company, was heavily associated with the restoration of the Virginia State capitol.
posted by crunchland at 1:31 PM on January 19, 2006

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