Thursday, March 3, 2011

Victorian Era Art: Buying and restoration

Of course most of us focus on furniture for our Victorian Home but Art is just as important is artwork for your walls. I generally suggest buying what you like within the period. In my case I have two spheres of interest, Antique lithography from 1860-1890 and American Oil Landscapes from the same period. Nothing is worse that going into a period restoration and seeing modern day prints on the wall.
Dirty and dingy its hard to appreciate how nice this painting is

Imagine my surprise when  the other day I came across this oil painting at an antique mall. I caught it out of the corner of my eye while looking at some light fixtures. Dark and dingy, most would have passed by it, but I felt it bore closer inspection. I turned it over and it was an original canvas, never relined, on original stretcher which were unusual in that rather than the typical 45 degree miter they had a  curve miter and they had astamped patent date of Dec 21,1886. That was important. I should mention that I spend my summers in high school working for a framer and artwork restorer Lyman Bros and I apprenticed under Mr Lyman in the art restoration department. I remembered coming across these before. They are known as a Type 4B mortise with double miter, ogee variation with key.

Now the dealer tagged this as a "primitive art piece", however knowing the type of stretcher, the fact it was largely sold on the east coast and it was dated June 10 88, I knew in fact this was an original (it is unsigned) buy probably an American east coast artist. (stylistically probably a follower of the Hudson River school). Obviously the scene is a lake or coast view. Could be US could also be Canada. Short of finding a similar piece by another artist with same mountain in the background it would be impossible to know where its painted, it is stylistically in the period. Any 123 year old oil painting has  value if nothing more than its decorative value. Of course I will send off photos to Sothebys and some art conservator friends of mine to see if anyone can attribute it, You just NEVER KNOW?

Of course condition is a big factor when buying Art. Tears can always be fixed, canvases can be relined but when you find an intact original canvas, my recommendation is buy it if you like it, I wont tell you what I paid but it was minimal. The big drawback with this piece was it was filthy. Most people would need to send this out to a conservator. Of course I am restoring period stencils and murals all the time so this was a good opportunity as I didn't need to spend several hundred on hiring a conservator since I could do it "in-house."
Cleaning: the upper right shows just how vibrant the colors are on this piece

This piece had been varnished so I was able to test one corner. It had been in a frame for years and probably only recently taken out because the unexposed edges were clean and gave me good idea that this was a much brighter. I began the cleaning process and you can see here with just 1/4 of it cleaned how much brighter it is. I elected to only clean the exterior but not take the piece down "below varnish" as without knowing IF it might be valuable piece, I didn't want to do anything to potentially alter it and affect its value.
You can appreciate the details and skill of the artist after cleaning

You can see here just how bright the tree details are post cleaning
Great use of light and color to establish depth, this artist was well trained whomever he or she was.

The sky is now much lighter after cleaning.
Now looking and bright and crisp as the day it was painted

And the final product with 12 decades of dirt and grime gone. Quite a transformation! Next step will be suitable frame and I have another "period piece". So we went from a few dollars find to a piece that with a nice frame will be worth at least several hundred to maybe a few thousand dollars after authentication or proper attribution. It pays to look at EVERYTHING when you go antique shopping!

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