Advice & Services

fine art dealer london

On Buying…

Most of the UK’s leading fine art dealers offer a variety of advisory services enabling clients to pay for art market trend reports, independent valuation reports, and numerous other presentations designed to give the impression that there is some flawless algorithm to the successful buying of art. In truth art prices go up and art prices go down and shelling out on spread sheets and buying by numbers won’t improve your odds of purchasing a good picture.

Of course professional art advisors deliberately over-complicate the process of buying art. It is in their interest to do so. Heaven forbid that anyone interested in purchasing a painting should simply go out a buy one for no other reason than they like it.

“Ah, but we’re not advising just anyone”, they would say, “We are giving expert long-term advice to high wealth individuals looking to make sound financial investments”. Hmm.

Here’s the thing. If you’re wealthy, and I mean wealthy enough to have millions to play with all the advice you’ll ever need to speculate in the art market is this; buy Basquiat, Warhol, Richter and Koons. Either that or take one of whatever Steve Cohen, Leo DiCaprio, or David Geffen is having because when they buy a picture the subsequent demand for that artist’s work is guaranteed and any work coming up for sale in future will never be allowed to sell for less because it is in the interests of the same buyers to keep the sale prices for that artist consistently high.

If on the other hand you’re name isn’t Abramovich I would invest your money elsewhere. There are a great many less unpredictable markets in which to speculate. Only at the very highest end of the market – basically the Modern Art market – is there big money to be made by ‘investing’ in art. That said, it’s all an elaborate confidence trick and a largely joyless pastime for people with more interest in status than artistic significance and with more sterling than sense.

Forget trying to predict future prices and the dubious promise of financial return and instead buy what you like the look of and want to live with every day. Of course no-one wants to waste money and a little research into an artist’s previous work and sales history can be useful. But don’t over-complicate it. The process of buying a painting should be fun and any choice based upon instinct and personal taste. Enjoy.


On Restoration…

Although the two definitions tend to intermingle I think it is simplest and most useful to think of conservation as the preservation of and prevention of deterioration to oil paintings and restoration as the repair and renovation of damaged and/or discoloured paintings to as close to original condition as possible. Each one of the techniques involved in these processes should be sympathetic and reversible, and always carried out by a professional. We use the services of two of the UK’s most experienced fine art conservators; and whom clients may have seen on the BBC Television series’ ‘Fake or Fortune’ and ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’.

All oil paintings are subject to deterioration due to environmental conditions as they age. Over time oil paintings are prone to splitting, rotting, warping, blistering, cracking, cupping, flaking, darkening, blanching, discolouring, and disappearing under layers of ancient varnish. Extremes of heat and cold, intrusion of water and accidental mechanical damage will frequently cause the paint and/or ground layer to detach from the canvas support or wooden panel of a painting. Canvas’ especially can also suffer inherent technical problems caused by the use of incompatible materials and the methods of the artist.

The process of attaching a new layer of support under the old deteriorated canvas is known as lining. Many people refer to the process as ‘relining’, but this is a mistake. You would only ever ‘reline’ a painting once the previous replacement lining has, like the initial canvas, deteriorated. Lining provides strength and durability to old, brittle, or torn canvases.

The cleaning process always begins with the removal of old layers of discoloured varnish. The removal of varnish and the cleaning of the paint layers themselves is a painstaking and potentially hazardous business that should only be attempted by an experienced fine art restorer. The chemicals used in the cleaning process (and in the lining of pictures) are pretty noxious and volatile and have the potential to cause significant damage to both the painting being restored and the person attempting to restore it.

Since oil paintings are usually (and in my opinion correctly) displayed without the protection of glass they are perennially exposed to atmospheric pollutants such as dust, soot, and smoke. Everything that contributes to the soiling of walls also affects the paintings displayed on them and that includes the damages caused by heat, cold, and damp. Varnishes originally used to protect paint layers from damage have a tendency to yellow with age hiding the original true colours of the painting. After removing the layers of old varnish the restorer can get to work cleaning the oil colours which form the surface of the painting itself.

In order to prevent further losses weaknesses must be addressed by the injection of media specific adhesives to consolidate and stabilizes the paint layers. Heat and vacuum are employed to help the binder penetrate the between the minute cracks.

The process of retouching – or ‘in-painting’ as it is referred to in the US – involves reinstating missing or damaged areas of paint in a way that blends in with the surrounding pigments without covering any of the surrounding areas of undamaged paint (over-painting). After performing any necessary consolidation, filling, and texturing the restorer will re-touch the area by building up successive translucent layers of dry ground pigments to accurately represent aged oil paint.

After retouching, the painting is given a final coat of stable, reversible varnish to produce an even sheen, saturate all colours and provide protection to the paint layers.

I am frequently asked to advise clients with established collections about the restoration of paintings they already own and I am always happy to recommend an appropriate course of action. In the meantime I would point anyone wishing to learn more – very much more – about conservation and restoration in the direction of Paul Taylor’s excellent book on the subject; ‘Condition; the Aging of Art’.


On Framing…

Every painting available to purchase from AFP’s online gallery is presented in a sympathetic antique or vintage frame. Fine examples of 18th, 19th, and 20th century British and European frames are works of art in their own right and play an essential role in complementing the oil paintings and watercolours they support.

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Where possible our paintings are sold in their original frames, which are always restored prior to sale. When a frame is beyond repair I will personally source a vintage or antique replacement of suitable design or have a bespoke replacement made-to-order from one of the UK’s foremost period frame makers. I am always happy to advise clients on the subject of frames and framing and to assist in finding replacements for paintings they already own.


On Hanging…

For clients based in the south of England we can recommend the services of a specialist picture hanger with more than 30 years’ experience in the safe display and presentation of fine paintings.