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Old Family Portraits – Ask yourself these 3 important questions!

Posted · 26 Comments

I know my last post was about family portraits but you have GOT TO SEE this one! This family portrait was brought to us by the exhibits coordinator for the National archives and was really in sad shape. Notice the 18″ slash down the left side. Here’s a raking light shot of the distortions/gathers in the canvas.

The painting canvas was so brittle that the tacking edge nails had pulled through the fabric so the edges were loose and the painting was barely hanging onto the stretcher bars. The surface of the painting was LOADED with dirt, grime and discolored varnish… nicotine? How did this painting get into such precarious condition? Except it was adopted by a preservationist soul, this portrait and piece of history was destined for the trash.

Professional art conservation and painting restoration to the rescue. The rip repair of this painting’s ripped edges were rejoined under the microscope and, in fact, here’s a video to show how we do it:

The cleaning was actually, surprisingly not so difficult. Once the varnish was dissolved, the rest of the dirty layers washed away with it’s removal. What a difference!!!!

So again, how did this painting get into such precarious condition? As you might imagine, all of this damage is caused by handling and the way it was treated. In other words, all of this damage was avoidable… or preventable! What circumstances do you paintings find themselves? Are fragile old paintings displayed in high traffic areas? Are paintings not on the walls simple leaning against themselves in the closet, garage or basement? Immediate action to remedy the situation may save you many $1,000’s of dollars!

Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438

Art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate 805 895 5121

Follow us on Fine Art Conservation Lab and Scott M. Haskins

After Conservation Family Portrait

This painting has minimal touch up done (inpainting) and many imperfections, that are original to the painting or are a result of the artist’s technique, remained. The goal was to have the portrait look great… but have it be as original as possible.

To learn more about what you can do at home to take care of your stuff, download now a copy of Scott’s book, How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster at 50% off!

CLICK HERE to know more:

26 Responses to "Old Family Portraits – Ask yourself these 3 important questions!"
  1. Glen says:

    What the heck?! How can a family portrait get into such a messy condition? Don’t people care for their ancestors?! Unbelievable. If I had a family portrait it would be near and dear to my heart.

  2. Tanya says:

    You are a magician Scott. Your job must be so satisfying!

  3. Craig says:

    Thank you for you talents and expertise that helps to save history and art. I love what you do.

  4. Larry says:

    The portrait is mine and I got it from another person so I don’t know how it got into this condition. BUT, I love how the portrait turned out! The painting came with its old frame that was quite beat up and didn’t really fit. I took the frame apart and trimmed about ¾” off the frame and re glued it. I even used the same nails in the same holes. I got a good whiff of the dust from cutting through the gesso… plugged my nose for about 8 hours……….probably some really great 19th century poison…….. Please tell everyone at FACL how pleased I am yet again with you all.

  5. Ted says:

    I had FACL do another painting/portrait for my family and we were flabbergasted with the excellent results. We are so pleased we had several copies made from high def photo and had them printed on gliclee. With and oldish looking frame, the copies really look like the real deal and so now several family members also have a family portrait they love.

  6. Clara says:

    Love your work Scott and thanks for sharing.

  7. Craig says:

    I loved looking at your video of repairing rips. How tedious but what great results.

  8. Angie says:

    How much did this cost?!

    • Scott Haskins says:

      Costs vary depending on size, age and difficulty. A cleaning can range from maybe $200 to $1,000s but most cleanings on 20th century pictures run around $400.00 – 500.00 for a 2’x 3′ ft painting,

  9. Mara says:

    Loved your article and your videos on Youtube. I collect antiques and love your insights and lessons. I’m learning a lot. Thanks

  10. Theo says:

    After reading your article I went looking for a couple of paintings that I know are in storage and sure enough someone had moved them around and there was stuff leaning on them! Thank goodness they weren’t ripped but I can see how it happens. Thanks for saving me the money and heartbreak.

  11. Larry says:

    Great photos and thanks for sharing.

  12. Jess says:

    Wish I had a family portrait to restore. I don’t even know who my grandparents are.

  13. Kelly says:

    I was in an antique shop the other day and the shop owner asked me if I had any ancestor’s portraits. I told him “no” and he said then why not buy one? I was appalled and wonder how many people just buy a family portrait and make up a story? He thought it was funny.

    • Scott Haskins says:

      Yea, it must be an antique shop joke. I’ve heard it before too and I had the same reaction as you!

  14. Jeff says:

    Scott your talents always amaze me.

  15. Greg says:

    This is a great blog and I love reading about the family history stuff you write about. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Lisa says:

    Art conservation is so wonderful and interesting.

  17. Brandon says:

    This isn’t really great art. I mean, the quality of the artwork isn’t that great. So, why go to all the effort? You could do it in Photoshop and still have a good looking image for the family records without spending all the money to save a lousy quality original.

    • Scott Haskins says:

      Brandon, the quality of the original family portrait is hardly the issue. Its a grandparent for goodness sakes! Yes, a photoshop makeover is a good way to go for making a photo presentable. But be sure to have a heart and the smarts to preserve the original for future generations that may love it more than you.

  18. Greg says:

    Great post and thanks for the tips/questions on storing art. I’ll go look.

  19. Lance says:

    I met Scott in Utah at a meeting of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers and he spoke to our organization and was a BIG hit. He really knows his stuff and does work for out museums.

  20. Denise says:

    You are such an artist Scott and I love your work.

  21. johnny says:

    I’ve got some old family portraits that have ended up at my house but until I saw this post I haven’t really thought much about them. Thanks for heightening my awareness and I will look at them with “new eyes.”

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