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What to Do With Damaged Works of Art

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Torn canvas

Torn canvas

Your Experience

Have you ever had a favorite painting damaged? It could be some personal treasure that was passed down to you from previous generations or just something you purchased yourself. Either way, there is a right way to touch up flaked paint or torn canvases and a wrong way. If your favorite piece wasn’t worth much money you could consider tossing it and buying something new but if a long-lost relative painted it you may not want to do that.

“As a painter I shall never signify anything of importance. I feel it absolutely.”

— Vincent Van Gogh

To restore or not to restore

To restore or not to restore

Art Restoration

It is recommended against restoring a painting worth less than $700 because the cost will exceed the value of the art. Many museums have departments dedicated to the restoration and repair of great art. But for personal work where you haven’t thousands of dollars to spend for restoration, consider calling a local college or university art department to see if a student can restore it. They work cheap and need the experience in restoration if that is the field they intend to enter.

Rokeby Venus or Venus with Mirror

Rokeby Venus or Venus with Mirror

Damaged Painting

Throughout history, there are several times when great art was damaged on purpose or by accident. To save them there have been many who have studied and mastered the art of restoration.

The Toilet of Venus or the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez was savagely attacked with a knife by a small “deranged suffragette” in the National Museum in 1914. She was apparently making a statement about beautiful living women who were being damaged by the system when fictitious non-living women were revered. She said you can get another painting but you can’t replace Mrs. Pankhurst, who was a woman arrested for her suffragette activities, including vandalism and arson.

The painting was finished between 1647 and 1651, and seeing that Velazquez is no longer living, she was in error that you can get another painting. Nothing could replace that masterpiece besides a copy. The museum was closed and the painting was handed over to the restorer, Helmut Ruhemann, who did a masterful job at repairing the damage. He had to place canvas behind the original to reinforce the original canvas and then touch up places where the paint may have flaked. This took two weeks to complete and great skill. It is evident these days that this skill is something officials don’t wish to pay for, from the many botched and mutilated “restoration” attempts I have seen recently.

Mary Richardson who damaged the Rokeby Venus with a butcher knife

Mary Richardson who damaged the Rokeby Venus with a butcher knife

The Sentence for Damaging a National Treasure

Mary Richardson, the suffragette who damaged the painting with a butcher knife, was arrested and received a six-month jail sentence as punishment. She promptly went on a hunger strike, as was the common practice among the suffragettes at the time, and was released after just a few weeks served.

Accidents Happen

Years ago I was commissioned to paint a large backdrop on canvas for a high school graduation event. The canvas was stretched on two-by-fours, each 8 feet tall and there were eight of them. They would be assembled and clamped together for the backdrop. During the painting process, one of the canvases fell against another one and split the canvas. If I hadn’t known that there was a way to mend damaged canvas I would have been up a creek without a paddle. Fortunately, I had seen it done before so I knew what to do. This is something that professionals should do but for my purposes, I made it work.

I was present one day when an accident happened to one of the paintings entered in a juried art show. During the judging, the paintings were lined up against a wall. A heavy metal chair fell over and split one of the canvases in a backward “7” pattern. It was a disaster. The judging went on but we all wondered what to do with the damaged painting. We told the owner, of course, but fortunately, one of our older members had worked with some art restorers and knew how to mend the painting invisibly. I was so honored to know him and see him work. The painting was fixed in time for the show’s opening and hung all through the showing.

“I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant. Finished means complete, perfect.”

— Claude Monet

Virgin on the Rocks painted on wood panel

Virgin on the Rocks painted on wood panel

The Da Vinci Code Movie

Did you see the movie “The Da Vinci Code” based on the book by Dan Brown? Do you remember the segment where they are in the Louvre and the bad guy threatens to put his fist through the priceless Da Vinci masterpiece “Virgin on the Rocks?” That was a glaring error for someone because Da Vinci didn’t paint that on canvas. He painted on wood. It would be pretty difficult to put your fist through a wooden panel that thick with a wall behind it. Whoops. Someone didn’t do his or her homework.

Great Art Treasures

In 2012 in the sleepy Aragonese village in Spain, a local parishioner volunteered to “repair” the 19th-century fresco depicting Jesus with a crown of thorns because it was beginning to flake off the damp walls of the church. The amateur artist, Cecilia Gimenez, basically said “it got out of hand” and she so disfigured the fresco that it went viral as the “Monkey Jesus.” In her defense, Ms. Gimenez stated, “They didn’t let me finish.” This is what happens when you let an amateur lay a brush on a priceless work of art.

Another painting in Spain, Immaculate Conception by Murillo was “restored” by a furniture restorer. Of course, it was a disaster. There needs to be some regulation on who is allowed to attempt restoring great art treasures.

The Smiling Statue in Palencia, Spain is another botched attempt at restoration. The Smithsonian reported about it in November 2020. Many people think it now looks more like a Mr. Potato Head than a smiling woman and they could be right.

My paintings having increased in value enough to pay a restorer but I value them.

My paintings having increased in value enough to pay a restorer but I value them.

Final Thoughts

What do you think of art restoration? It is a lot of painstaking time and effort for an old painting, I know but in some cases, it is worth the effort. Or is it? Would it have been better to leave the fresco in Spain alone, or the painting “Immaculate Conception,” or the statue of “the Smiling Statue?” What are your thoughts?


The Science Behind the Restoration of a Painting

The Times article on Deranged Suffragette

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Ravi Rajan,

Oh, I agree. It is evil. It is a loss for everyone to lose a masterpiece like that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Devika Primić,

I'm glad you agree with me. It is a lot to think about, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Bill Holland,

Do you remember that Batman movie where the Joker goes through a museum/restaurant and defaces the art pieces with green spray paint? That made me sick and people around me were laughing. Wow. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Lorna Lamon,

Hi Lorna, I've missed seeing you. I hope you are well and taking care of yourself. Yes, restoring art is an art in itself and shouldn't be done by just anyone. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

It never ceases to amaze me that anyone would allow an amateur to touch up any ancient masterpiece. You just can't replace those. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 13, 2021:

Thanks for this very informative article. I remember the Vatican has a dedicated post of the art restorer whose sole job is to just restore the priceless paintings collected by the Vatican over the centuries. I also feel sad when people try to damage paintings on purpose. This is simply evil behavior. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 13, 2021:

Denise this is interesting about such art works. If by accident is understandable. Your hub gives me lot to think of in other cases as you mention here is awful.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 13, 2021:

It almost makes me sick to my stomach to think that treasures would be damaged; by accident is one thing, but on purpose? I can't imagine it, and yet it happens. I'm all for restoration of a national treasure.

Blessings always!

Lorna Lamon on April 13, 2021:

Hi Denise,

Such an interesting article. I have a friend whose father restores artwork, and it took him many years of training and consulting with artists before he could begin to restore. I am shocked that the artwork you mentioned which had been disfigured, was not restored by a professional. I also think that for the much older paintings, leaving them as they are can add to their overall charm and beauty. I hope you are well Denise as it has been a while since I have been on HubPages. Thank you for sharing this interesting article.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 12, 2021:

It would take experts in the field of restoration to tackle masterpieces, and of course, they would have to be appropriately paid for their efforts. Those botched restorations you portrayed are terrible.

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