Problems in Old Oil Paintings


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Art collectors will love this discussion on getting rid of ripples and cracking in paintings. 5 great tips for art collectors.

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Problems in Old Oil Paintings

  1. 1. Problems in Old Oil Paintings - Gathers/Rippling/Cracks What Happened To My Painting?!!!!About 12 years I was digging through a storage room with a client/friend/dealer,Thom Gianetto of Edenhurst Gallery and he had a sweet 19th century painting by anunknown artist that I immediately knew my wife would love. This painting wastotally NOT his “thing” as he is an expert in high quality early CaliforniaImpressionist paintings that are really gorgeous and highly collectible. So, weworked out a deal and I got the painting. The unframed painting was in very goodcondition, with a moderately yellowed varnish and a few cracks in the paintlayers that I thought “I would just live with for now.” But lately, the ripples andcracking have looked more pronounced and don’t go away.I’ve blogged before about the effects of humidity and temperature on oil andacrylic paintings on fabrics (it doesn’t matter if they are on linen, cotton canvas,hemp or a blend): Click here to see the article and comments. Well, this blog postis about MY PAINTING! I mean, as good as the care is on my own art, I wouldexpect NOTHING to ever happen! Here is a photo of the painting: G.A. Cuomo c. 1880If you want to read about the unexpected cleaning of this painting, CLICK HERE(read about the unexpected time it took). We’ve had the painting hung in the frontroom of our house (CLICK HERE to see short video with this painting ofearthquake proofing your collectibles), now for about 11 years, in a mild climatewith no heating issues or excess humidity. Here’s a raking light photo to show youthe ripples or gathers in the canvas that have remained in the painting.:
  2. 2. Notice gathers/ripples along right and left sides and the pronounced cracks across the painting in the upper areasThe ripples or distortions correspond to where the original artist tacked the canvasto the stretcher bars and now that the canvas is expanding and contracting theunevenness that the artist used in his technique are showing up. The expanding andcontracting of the painting is a result of fluxuating humidity and temperature andperhaps its been a bit more muggy than usual where we live. So, it would bepredictable that they would be more pronounced.The question and decision to be made is: 1) Wait till the muggy season is over andsee if the gathers, ripples and cracks in the painting are less visible. 2) Back thepainting now so that we never see the ripples ever again and we stop the crackingof the paint where it is now so they don’t develop any further. We’ve chosen option#2. The backing of a painting is called “lining a painting” and this paintingconservation treatment should NEVER change the texture of the front of thepainting. It should also be “reversible” or removable in the future without harmingthe artwork.In this case, the 19th century canvas is highly responsive to water and if I were touse a water based glue to attach the lining, it would cause the fibers to shrink andthe painting would be extensively damaged. Here’s a close up of another paintingthat was glue/paste lined and the paint popped off in a small area… but I’ve seenentire paintings go ape nuts flaking after getting wet: Losses of paint due to shrinkage of the canvas on a 19th century painting
  3. 3. I could use wax as an adhesive to line the painting but its my experience that thewax doesn’t do very well in getting rid of cracking and distortions unless you getthe painting so hot as to practically melt the paint and it often stains and darkens19th century glazing layers particularly if they are light colored (but I’ve seen manydark colors stained too). So, I don’t use wax as a lining adhesive.There are many choices of synthetic adhesives that have been tested and developedspecifically for painting restoration lining treatments over the last 50 years ormore. The couple that we use are more easily reversed and don’t put the painting atrisk. They can also be utilized in cooperation with other treatments to removedistortions and cracks.So, I will be using a synthetic adhesive for the lining treatment to get rid of thegathers/ripples and the cracks. I can pretty much guarantee that the painting willlook perfect when we are done… and will stay that way for many decades into thefuture. Anytime way into the future, if for some reason our painting conservationlining treatment needs to be undone and removed, it will come off withoutdamaging the original painting.Framing: Ive written before about how much I like to hunt for, collect and recycleold frames. Heres the article: CLICK HERE. Well, thats exactly what we did withthis painting! A short time after I got this painting, I was scrounging around in anattic with a client and found a really beat up, dirty, busted up old frame from the1880s. Disgusted that he would have such a sorry looking item still around, theclient gave it to me. I don’t have a photo of it before we did the restoration work butit was cut down to fit the painting in this blog post, the broken cornerornamentation was reconstructed and the broken and missing gesso was repaired(filled and consolidated). Then the whole frame was refinished with a 23K goldwaterleaf period looking finish. Here’s what it looks like today. I love this frame! Period frame, saved from the trash, from end of the 1800’s - cut down and refinished to fit this painting
  4. 4. Nice “package” (as the dealer’s would say), eh? And I hit a home run with my wifetoo! By the way, if you have a beat up old broken down frame you want to giveme, let me know. Maybe we can trade something for it!So, I think you can see there are several valuable points made in this blog post if youare an art collector: 1. Why paintings have ripples and crack (humidity and temperature fluxuations) 2. Choices when choosing a lining technique for paintings and why 3. Great example of reusing old frames 4. I gave you 5 great (non self promoting) links to other high interest informationKeep these points in mind and you will be thanking me for helping you to save$1,000’s and get better higher quality results in your collection care and paintingcollecting.In exchange for this valuable information, would you please give this blog post aTHUMBS UP? Thanks!Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438Art and antiques appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate, FACL Appraisals 805895 5121Call Thom Gianetto, Edenhurst Gallery 949 376 9222 or go to the gallery website at for Early California Impressionist andModernist PaintingsScott M. Haskins was recognized recently as the Number 1 Art Expert to follow onTwitter for Insurance Adjusters (Follow best_artdoc): be our friend on Facebook: "Fine Art Conservation", "Tips For Art Collectors","Scott M. Haskins", "Mural Art Conservation"