The Restoration Process
At Douwes Fine Art, we offer decades of professional experience in all kinds of easel pictures, ranging from early Flemish panel paintings to modern day canvases executed in mixed media. All paintings that are entrusted to the care of Douwes Fine Art are skilfully restored in one of two well equipped workshops. Panels are treated with modern glues and resins. Worn out canvases are backed on purpose-built relining tables. Darkened layers of varnish are carefully removed using a sophisticated mixture of solvents. Damages to the paint layer are filled up and retouched with modern and reversible mediums. Finally, the paintings are given a thin coat of durable varnish, if necessary. A professional team of restorers know exactly how to combine the use of traditional and modern restoration techniques, as well as understand the unique aspects of each individual piece of art they are working on. They also respect the principles of reversibility, i.e. ideally a restoration must be able to be undone without causing harm to, or changing the original work of art.
We aim to maintain or restore the original appearance of a painting. Therefore, as a general rule, we retouch as sparsely and as invisibly as possible, always taking care to use reversible paints. We reline in both traditional and modern styles, employing warm and cold methods to fuse canvases, using both traditional wax and resin methods, as well as modern thermoplastic glues. We have extensive experience with panels and wood restoration. Furthermore, we can also work with marouflé techniques if needed. What the most suitable method ends up being always depends on the piece of art at hand.
The following steps are typical for a complete restoration:
- Surface cleaning
- Varnish removal
- Repair of tears and holes
- Repair of wooden supports
Today we focus on five centuries of paintings and are proud of the fact that we can provide a complete service and offer expert restorations spanning such an extensive timeline. We are competitive in price and you are welcome to inquire about estimates and timing/deadlines of the work! Our restorations include research and more precision in the attribution of your objects. We provide condition reports, photography and guidance towards framing, insurance and anything else.
‘Conscientiously apply what you have learned, and during this process, you might discover the secrets and nuances of this fine profession.’ ~Rembrandt
Paintings and Restorers of the past
An oil painting is a complex three-dimensional structure, consisting of different materials, each with its own property that age in different ways. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that this already fragile object will be irreversibly altered, merely by the passing of time. Sunlight, water damage, humidity, smoke, central heating and human handling take their toll over time. Surprisingly, even past restorers themselves have, over the centuries, been a leading cause of irreparable damage. Only in recent decades have they begun to ‘act more responsibly’ towards the object in their care. And today, a large part of the activity of the modern picture restorer is indeed restoring the restored!
It is seldom that one encounters an old, totally unrestored painting. Most of them have had their varnish removed at least once. It is also fair to assume that a 350-year-old painting has, possibly, been cleaned up to five or six times. This is the rule rather than the exception. More often than not cleaning – or better said, using incorrect solvents – has taken its toll in that at least some of the original paint has been lost in the process. Seventeenth century paintings on canvas without a backing, or those with the original sides not yet trimmed, are a rarity. Relining has in the past routinely been done, sometimes without consideration to the artwork in question, thereby irreversibly changing the appearance of the painting. Many paintings on panel have at some time in the past been unnecessarily strengthened with a cradle, often causing damage to the picture surface.
Nevertheless, all these restoration efforts took place with the best of intentions. Hence, even with the unintentional damage along the way, gratitude is due to the restorers of the past for all their fine hard work and efforts as they helped pass on many of the cultural achievements of their time. Their collective experience and expertise, gained and developed over so many years, still remains the most important knowledge base from which modern-day restoration was able to develop.