When restoration goes wrong
August 22 2012
Picture: Borjanos Studies Centre
Once upon a time, in a small town in Spain, a kindly pensioner saw that a painting of Christ in her local church was in bad condition. Fancying herself as something of an artist, and keen to perform her good deed of the day, she decided she would have a go at restoring the fresco herself. After all, how hard could it be? So she popped out to her local art shop and, when nobody was looking,* snuck into the church to begin her work. After much care and patching up, she stepped back to admire her divinely inspired conservation skills. Excelente! Christ was now complete again. He looked much nicer clean shaven, and not only altogether cheerier without that uncomfortable crown of thorns, but warmer too with a tasteful woolly balaclava.
I am a restoration genio, she thought. Perhaps when the Prado finds its next over-painted Mona Lisa, they'll let me have a go?
This is a true story, and a vivid example of how over-paint can get out of hand. I quite often come across pictures that have been over-painted to within an inch of their lives. What happens is this; the incompetent conservator fills in one area of damage and re-touches it. But then, because his or her over-paint doesn't match the surrounding area properly, they just carry on over-painting in ever-increasing circles until soon the whole painting is over-painted. One of our forthcoming episodes of 'Fake or Fortune?' (starts BBC1 16th Sept) will be about an over-painted picture.
* Not so - apprently the vicar knew all about it!