Should I try to re-restore my painting?
August 13, 2007 5:26 AM   Subscribe

I recently had a painting restored and one of the details has been significantly changed. Do I leave the restoration alone or do I try to repair the repair?

I have an oil painting that's a family heirloom of sorts, one of many. Over the years it got knocked around a decent amount, and last winter, when I discovered a tear in the canvas, I had the painting restored. A reputable art shop sent me off-the-books to one of their employees, a young artist who repaired the tear, touched up a variety of chips and nicks, and gave the painting a coat of varnish to preserve the restored work. It looks terrific, and is newly framed and back on display.

I was gazing at it recently and noticed for the first time that one of the details in the painting seems to be vastly different. I'm posting anonymously (to avoid any family unrest--I didn't share the news of the tear), so I don't want to be explicit, but imagine turning a mammal into an inanimate object. It's maybe a 2x1" detail in 20x24 landscape painting, but the item is in the center of the painting, and it's driving me crazy now that I've discovered it.

What, if anything, do I do about this? On one hand, I really, really want the original detail returned to the painting. On the other, I know that if it's gone, it's really gone, and it will be impossible for the restorer to re-create the old object, as I'll wind up with his art and not the original artist's rendering. I suspect, too, that the polyurethane coat makes this all a moot question, and any attempts at changing the painting will cause more problems than they solve.

Interestingly enough, it is also possible that I misinterpreted the pre-restored version, and that the fixed art was what should have been there. I know what I used to see, but I'm also willing to accept that maybe the deterioration over the years turned it into something else, which the restoring artist saw clearer than me. I have not yet called the restorer to ask about it. I also, unfortunately, did not photograph the painting pre-restoration, since I didn't expect any major revisions, just touch-ups.

Given the uncertainty and current condition of the painting, is it even worth it for me to investigate the matter? If so, what exactly do I do to get help without offending the restorer, who otherwise did excellent work?

(I can provide follow-up details via mathowie or jessamyn if any are needed.)
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
Did you or the restorer photograph the painting before the restoration was done? What to do now probably depends on how much money you want to spend on it.
posted by DarkForest at 5:33 AM on August 13, 2007

Oops, sorry, didn't see at first that you didn't photograph...
posted by DarkForest at 5:34 AM on August 13, 2007

Take it back and discuss it with the restorer.
posted by fire&wings at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2007

The varnish layer actually doesn't prevent someone from adding some inpainting to turn your rock back into a mammal. In fact, most conservation happens this way. When inpainting is over varnish, it's a sign to future conservators that "hey, this was my touchup, not the original artist's work."

Talk to the guy who did the conservation.
posted by advicepig at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2007

I'll bet that the restorer has a UV light--it's a common restoration tool. Shining it on the painting ought to give a good idea of what was there originally.

Varnish is pretty easily removed.

If this painting is at all monetarily valuable, though, I think it might be a good idea to take it to another restorer.
posted by veronica sawyer at 7:11 AM on August 13, 2007

Take it back. Also, you say varnish, but then polyurethane. The latter was probably not used on your painting and varnish for oil paintings does come off relatively easily. You never ever photographed it, eh? Too bad. Since you're not sure about what you saw, you should first confirm it with someone else who knows what it looks like. I realize that may be difficult, given the damage was a touchy subject and the repair is so far secret.
posted by Listener at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2007

(By which I mean, this one might not be the most apt and could harm its value.)
posted by veronica sawyer at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2007

one of their employees, a young artist who repaired the tear

If he was a trained restoration / conservation person (which sounds like it might not be the case ), anything he did should be reversible. If he is simply a local artist (however talented and well intentioned), the "restoration" could well be permanent and unfortunate.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:18 AM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just talk to the restorer about how restoration works and point out that you were shocked to find that the dog in the middle is actually a boot?! It is a reasonable assumption that the restorer did not actually decide to "improve" the painting by adding in his own idea, but instead revealed something obscured by age or something that had been previously altered from the original.
posted by desuetude at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2007

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