Caring For Your Art Investment
Hello again from Martin Ayers, owner of Wessex Gallery.
So art is your passion and you are an existing or aspiring 'art collector'.
Regardless of your motives for building a collection, love of art, investment or both, you are investing hard earned cash into the art market.
Digressing from the main topic for a moment; In this context I use the word 'investing' to indicate that you may have already spent or plan to spend a significant part of your disposable income on your collection.
This does not necessarily mean that you have a long term 'investment' which is guaranteed to grow. Like any investment, the value of your art assets can go up or down, you will never get it 100% correct. However the greater your knowledge and experience the better the prospect of making sound acquisitions. Remember though that even the best assets can sometimes fall foul of the vagaries of the market and the current 'in vogue' trend or fashion.
A diversified collection across artists, styles, periods and mediums will help to mitigate these risks and give you an interesting and eclectic mix. Like all investments the diversification will spread the risk i.e if one artist or style goes out of fashion and hence depreciates in value, the rest of your collection may stay in vogue and hold its market interest and value.
Back to the main topic; still interested in building/maintaining a collection? If the answer is 'yes' my recommendation, as always, is buy what you like and buy the best example(s) you can afford.
Having made your acquisitions you can start to appreciate and enjoy your art. However, if you are sensible, and of course you are, your work does not stop there; you need to nurture and protect your assets; would you but a Maserati and leave it sitting out in the rain and never get it serviced!. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration and necessary actions will vary depending on the type of artwork i.e. watercolour, acrylic, oil, framed, unframed, under glass and its condition. I will address all of these in the following sections.
George Haite (1855 -1924)
South of France, watercolour
If you have watercolours in your collection:
Watercolours are usually painted on paper
If the paper is dirty, marked with water stains or foxing (Brown marks) or torn, these defects can usually be remedied by a specialist. Contact your local art gallery or auction house for the names of watercolour cleaning/restoration specialists in your locality. They will generally be very happy to assist.
One of my largest works by English artist Henry Charles Fox, which I purchased at auction in a very dirty condition with water staining, now looks like a new painting after specialist cleaning.
As a general rule it is not wise to buy watercolours if they are badly faded. The only exceptions are if they are extremely rare works by important artists or they have some emotional value e.g. painted by or of a family member.
Watercolours should be mounted on acid free paper to prevent deterioration in the colours. If your work is already mounted when purchased your specialist cleaner or framer will be able to advise. A specialist can remove the work from its existing mount and re-mount using acid free materials, if appropriate.
I do not recommend attempting cleaning and re-mounting work yourself - unless you have specialist training, the risk of permanent damage is too great - leave it to the expert.
Get a quotation for any work to be undertaken to avoid any nasty surprises.
Be aware that failure to address outstanding issues will invariably lead to further deterioration of the work.
Always frame watercolours under glass to protect them from contaminants
Do not hang watercolours in areas where they will be subjected to sunlight or bright lights as these will fade the painting and cause permanent damage.
Do not hang watercolours in areas where they will be subject to significant variations in temperature as this may cause condensation which in turn may lead to foxing or, in the worst case, water stains.
When framing watercolours there are a numerous options regarding frame types/styles and mounts (the surround within the frame). This is largely a matter of personal taste but the right selection can seriously enhance the presentation of the work and your subsequent appreciation and enjoyment. Speak to your framer and leverage their experience to get the best result.
Conserving oil paintings
If you have oil paintings in your collection:
Oil paintings can be painted on a number of different surfaces including, canvas, wooden board, masonite/hardboard, paper or even glass
Many oil paintings will have had a layer of clear varnish applied by the artist which will deteriorate and discolour over time.
The majority of oil paintings are not framed under glass but some are. Glazing usually has the benefit of protecting the painting from contaminents but, in my opinion, the glazing detracts from the overall visual presentation of the work. When I have purchased oils under glass, whilst I have found them to be exceptionally clean and in 'as new' condition, I have always had the glazing removed to realise the full impact of the work.
There are a host of condition issues which you may encounter with oil paintings. These include, dirty/discoloured layer of varnish, dirty paint surface, crackleture (cracking to the paint surface), lifting or missing paint, tears to the canvas/paper, cracks to the board, bitumised surface i.e. paint has been exposed to high temperatures usually when the work has hung above an open fireplace; this is particularly prevalent in early works.
Some works on canvas may have been re-lined i.e. they have had a new layer of canvas glued to the back to stabilise the original canvas. This is not uncommon in early works.
On the bright side, most of these issues can be addressed and to a great extent remedied by a skilled restorer/conservationist. Your local art gallery or auction house will again be able to direct you to specialists in your area.
Be aware that conservation and restoration services do not come cheap. You need to assess on a cost/benefit basis whether purchasing and undertaking work on a painting is justified. Your local auction house should be able to give you an unbiased opinion as to value of the finished restored article. If purchase price plus restoration are greater than re-sale (plus associated costs) then probably better to avoid the work, unless you absolutely love it and costs are not a dominant factor.
Again, I do not recommend attempting cleaning and restoration works yourself - unless you have specialist training, the risk of permanent damage is too great - leave it to the expert.
Always get a quotation before work commences.
If you are a new and inexperienced collector I recommend that you do not initially purchase works with serious condition issues as you will probably lack the knowledge to correctly assess the viability of the work.
All this may sound rather daunting. Don't let this be a deterrent, I have purchased many works that have been in a sound but dirty condition and I never fail to be delighted by the finished article once professionally cleaned.
Start by buying works that are in sound condition and only tackle more challenging purchases when you have acquired the degree of knowledge to correctly assess all aspects of the project.
How do you get the knowledge? Talk to dealers, auction houses, other collectors, restorers/conservationists, framers. Attend auction viewings and make your own assessment on works. Read articles in magazines and journals. Even the TV can be a great source of knowledge - check out BBC TV's 'Fake or Fortune' series with Fiona Bruce, Philip Mould and Bendor Grosvenor. Great watching.
What To Avoid When Buying
As a general rule I recommend that you steer clear of works with the following issues:
Faded or badly torn watercolours
Re-lined oil paintings - some people avoid re-lined works, as the work may have been unstable prior to re-lining, and this may limit your selling opportunities
Oil Paintings with significant paint loss, bitumised paint or other significant damage. Although these can be repaired, the repairs can be detected with the use of an ultraviolet light and this may deter a prospective purchaser if you decide to re-sell the work.
There are obviously exceptions to the above, for example, if the work has sentimental value or is rare, valuable or historically important.
Not all paintings will be framed when you purchase them. I buy unframed works at auctions around the world. This has the advantage of cheaper shipping and means that I can then determine the type of frame to best present the work. In some cases it may be acceptable to leave a work unframed. Many large contemporary works are hung unframed and look terrific.
I prefer to work with a framer who is also a skilled restorer i.e. they don't just sell new frames but can also undertake repairs to an existing frame and may even supply period frames. Your local art gallery or auction house should be able to direct you to a skilled framer/restorer.
If your purchase is unframed, take the work to your chosen framer/restorer. They will be able to advise and make recommendations on the best way to frame your paintings and they can show you an extensive range of frame samples and associated mounts and slips (The strip between the frame and the painting). If they don't have anything you like, check out the stock at a number of framers until you find something you like.
Always get a quotation before work commences as framing can be expensive.
Factors to take into consideration when appraising an existing frame:
If you purchase a painting with an existing frame:
Do you like the frame
Does the frame suit and enhance the visual impact (aesthetic qualities) of the painting. Some paintings are badly impacted by a frame which is not compatible with the work
Good presentation will enhance the aesthetic and sometimes also the intrinsic value of your painting.
What is the condition of the frame
Is it a period frame i.e. contemporary with the painting. This is considered desirable by some collectors.
What is the value of the frame - some early frames can be incredibly valuable, running into hundreds of thousands.
Is it worth restoring the frame and, if so, how much will it cost
How much will a new/replacement frame cost
Do not discard an existing frame without first discussing with your framer/restorer. It may just be a case of restoring the frame to repair damage and make it compatible with the painting e.g. re-gild or paint a different colour.
Eugene Dekkert (1865 - 1956)
Scottish Harbour Scene
If you look at the painting in the image above, oil on board by Scottish artist Eugene Dekkert, the frame is contemporary to the painting, late 19th/early 20th century. It is a gilt wood frame which has a thin gilt slip. Although the frame suits and complements the painting, it would benefit from being re-gilded which will significantly brighten and enhance the overall appearance of the frame/work. Additionally, you will notice that the painting is grimy. This can clearly be seen in the sky section of the painting. The painting would benefit from a light clean. Once this work is undertaken the painting will look 100% better.
There is a lot of information to digest in this article but I hope it goes some way to giving you the knowledge and confidence you require to pursue your passion for art collecting.
If you have any questions, please contact me via my wessexgallery.com website and check out the works we currently have for sale.