We have grown accustomed to the “golden patina” of 18th and 19th century paintings. That is how we first saw them in our text books, museums and galleries, and that is how we were taught to appreciate and love them. Yet was the grass any less green, the sky any less blue, and did the flowers grow amber yellow instead of white in the olden days? Of course not! Artists knew how to utilize brightly colored pigments. Their perception of color was no different from ours today. When they painted their artworks, they fully intended to reflect the elements of their surroundings, either en plein air or in their studios.

As time passes, oil paintings tend to darken due to the accumulation of dirt and yellowing of the varnish layer. Varnish is often applied to paintings to protect them from dust, nicotine and other potential pollutants. Instead of the actual paint, the varnish collects the dirt and damage, and that’s part of the reason it yellows over time. The good news is that the varnish can be removed and replaced, and the painting underneath is generally 100% intact. Replacement of the varnish is recommended once or twice each century.

If we wish to respect the intent of the artists of the 19th century, we must show their artworks the way they originally painted them—without yellowed varnish, soot, smoke and dirt, and with the colors and tones selected in their day. Through the centuries, these paintings, works on paper, drawings, etchings, and other artworks have suffered the effects of time, tobacco, water, insects, mildew and sunlight. They may have become brittle and crumbled, suffered paint loss or covered in layers of debris and dust. Often, non-archival and unsuitable materials and procedures were used in the preceding centuries.

Galerie Michael is proud to work with top fine art conservators, who together, with decades of experience, bring these masterpieces back to their original life. These devoted, highly-skilled practitioners of art restoration, who are intimately familiar with the physical and chemical properties of the materials used in artworks, and who possess a healthy appreciation and respect for the works assigned to their care, make the difference. Some of the many conservation and restoration services include: examination and testing of each surface, cleaning, stabilization of failing materials, lining of paintings, mending of craquelure and tears, alkaline washing, stain reduction, removing and replacing varnish and gilding of period frames.

Conservation and restoration are critical components in stabilizing and preserving the life of artworks of newly-perceived merit. This allows the painting to look fresh and as good as new, revealing the artist’s original vision.  It can help to change the work’s attribution, moving it from an unknown artist to the work of a master. This process often helps create a financial boost, and reveals more insight about the artist’s technique. With this level of care and respectful treatment of the art, our gallery helps protect the aesthetic, historic and sentimental value of each piece, and is instrumental in the building of great collections, large or small.

By Susan Allen