Fine art through history has had very integral ties to culture, communities and identity of civilizations. This has invariably accorded works of art the status of timeless tools for folk expression and resources for understanding the heritage of our forefathers.
Gaurav Bhatia Sotheby’s former MD and Ex Marketing Director LVMH Moet Hennessy elucidates how “a distinctive form of cultural value is embedded in historical Art and expression, that far surpasses its aesthetic or philosophical significance while determining their economic worth.”
Most of these paintings do not however, physically age as well with time as they do in terms of economic value. Depending on the composition of the paint or the weathers they withstand, they start to decay as days, years, decades and centuries turn. Gaurav Bhatia describes how “concerned efforts are thus very important to preserve these paintings and crafts to be standing against the test of time, to teach generations to come, the essence of art history.
A big part of cherishing art and folklore is in efforts to ensure its continuous existence.” Art Restoration, in its genesis, are efforts directed to preserve these artistic artefacts, to stabilize the remaining original artwork while repairing the damages it has endured.
The history of Art Conservation draws back to years before, tracing to the 16th century when the restoration work of the Sistine Chapel frescoes began. Gaurav Bhatia Sotheby’s Ex MD remarks how “The most famous historic examples of Restoration also shine as the best living examples of art that have been able to harbour the same intent of its original creator while it went under work for active restoration.”
Special care and a very close attention to details and conditions are the first features that restorers look to in conserving not just canvases and pieces but the sentiments that its creators express.
We have other noteworthy early time examples of restoration of famous works of art like Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper by Michelangelo Bellotti, the Woman in Red (1618) which was yellowed under a thick layer of varnish had completed its restoration work under the artistic calibre of Sir Philip Mould.
The portrait of Isabella Romola de Medici from the 16th century is another proud example to the wonders that these restoration efforts can bring to give life to damaged masterpieces- the painting stood beyond recognition after its 19th century restorers magic. Catherine of Alexandria and the Emma Gaggiotti portrait are other examples of art which were conserved from the knacks of time.
The restoration work in the 16th century English Tapestry, originated from Flanders in Belgium is one in the contemporary examples of conservation efforts, where 40 years of labour was put in the restoration of the textile. The magnanimous project nears its end now, with the completion of 12 out of the 13 panels in the weave, expecting to get to its successful target by year 2023.
Fine Art conservation and Restoration has been a thriving profession and an industry of the present times. Fine Art Conservation and Restoration Inc is one in some very esteemed private firms that offer services to museums, dealers, collectors and auction houses around the United States.
Concerned demands for restorary works come from clients like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, the National Park Service, the museums of fine art across USA and many many more. As more of these leading business houses undertake restoration works, the mass awareness on conservation of art has unanimously begun to branch out.
Gaurav Bhatia yet points out to the bigger risk of “erasing the past ” in the process of retouching these delicate pieces, that somehow ruin the authenticity of creation. He discusses the cause of the 19th century redesigning of the now ruined Spire in 1844, when the restoration work created a taller, sharper and more illustrative version of the original, bringing critical eyes to this convention of ‘combination of dormant old with the best of the new.’
While restoration efforts require a certain sense of creative visualization where the restorer fantasizes upon the nostalgia that the history of paintings carries, there is however also a need to realize how these works were created, moulded, textured and restored in the past times to help us draw an understanding of their genesis and connotation. And thus, each painting requires a personalized process to approach its restoration.
In the process of restoration, as deduced by Gaurav Bhatia, CEO Maison, “the aim is to find the least intrusive way possible to repair the damages’ ‘. The process begins with the initial assessment of the components of the original artwork- including its time, history, composition, techniques and pigments. Technological assistance with X-rays help determine the outline and textures of the piece while Infrared imaging brings out varnishes underneath the surface of the art.
Cameras with fixed wavelengths are also employed to differentiate pigments and materials used. Removing the varnish is the step that follows after this. Appropriate solvent proportions are used to remove the discoloured layer. Finally, the repainting and repairing follows, where dry pigments are mixed with non-varnishing solvents that carefully retouch the original layers.
Restorers ensure that the pigments they use protect the art from any possible damages in the future too, that the paintings won’t require any future retouching. The entire process is very labor-intensive, delicate and costly per say, that it is recommended againsts paintings that value less than $700. Highlighting the costs in restoration works, Gaurav Bhatia, Ex- MD Sotheby’s and LVMH elucidates how “each project has varying demands to be met, so the cost is greatly differential.
However, the technology that is currently under use for restoration works, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Scientific analysis is pricey. It is also important to see how these works take years of labour, employing trained and expert hired-hands which further add to the cost of the process”.
In his regards to the future of art restoration, he extends an optimistic note in efforts to bringing back these old triumphs to life, suggesting how “the future in the niche will be more technology led, will further curtail damages to originality and more advanced methods with continue to make way, as science will further integrate with the realm of Art conservation.”