Advice & Services
Many 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 spreadsheets 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 specialist guidance 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 (or inflatable balloon animal) the subsequent demand for that artist’s work is guaranteed and any picture (or inflatable balloon animal) 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 that artist’s prices high.
If on the other hand your name isn’t Abramovich I would invest your money elsewhere. There are a great many less unpredictable markets in which to speculate, and only at the very highest end of the market – basically the Contemporary 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 more sterling than sense.
Forget trying to predict future prices and the dubious promise of financial returns and instead buy what you like the look of and want to live with every day. The process of buying a painting should be fun and any choice based upon instinct and personal taste. Enjoy.
Every painting available to purchase from AFP’s online gallery is presented in a sympathetic fine quality frame. Antique frames are works of art in their own right and play an essential role in complementing the oil paintings and watercolours they support.
Where possible our paintings are sold in their original frames which are always restored prior to sale. Where an antique frame has gone beyond the point where restoration is not an option we re-hang the painting in a newly commissioned bespoke gold metal leaf carved wooden frame. These are made to order for us by one of the UK’s finest period frame makers using raw Obeche, a very stable wood that is certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.
Once the frame itself has been made the bare wood is prepared for finishing with gesso, a mixture of glue and whitening. The gesso is applied with a ‘single cream’ consistency as a base coat. Then, depending on the final finish required, the second coat is either a red bole (an earthy clay) for gold leaf frames or a red-based colour for gold metal leaf frames. For a gold leaf frame there will be 6 or 7 coats, starting with 3 coats of hard gesso followed by 3 or 4 soft coats. The next stage involves wet and dry sanding: washing back the gesso to achieve a smooth finish and sanding with very fine sandpaper. The smooth surface is then coated with adhesive layer which, once dry and tacky, is ready to receive the leaf. Once the surface is covered in sheets of leaf it is gently rubbed or burnished and finally sealed with layers of lacquer.
I am always happy to offer advice to clients on the subject of frames and framing.
For clients based in the UK mainland we provide a full delivery and hanging service upon request.
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.
Our conservation work is carried out by John Malcolm Fine Art Restoration (est.1974) and Simon Gillespie Studio, as seen on BBC Television’s ‘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 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 repairing any damages to the paint layers themselves.
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 pigments to accurately represent aged 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’.