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What does an Art Restorer do?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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An art restorer is an artistic and conservation professional who attempts to return soiled, damaged, or faded artworks to their original appearance. A highly detailed and painstaking job, art restoration necessitates extensive knowledge of cleaning and touch-up techniques, as well as a comprehensive understanding of each piece he or she restores. Art restorers are often employed by museums or private collectors to clean and help preserve priceless and beloved works of art.

Paintings and other forms of art are done on naturally transient and delicate materials; even a marble statue can become stained or dirty with enough time. Works done on canvas are subject to signs of age both on the original canvas and the painted or drawn image; in addition to actual art restoration, much of what an art restorer does will involve canvas mending and repair. An art restorer is tasked with examining a piece of work and determining what repairs are needed and if they can be accomplished without unduly endangering the piece.

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The integrity of the art is a major concern and source of some controversy about restoration. Many suggest that to tint or touch up fading colors is akin to destruction and bastardization of an original piece. One of the goals of many restoration processes is to ensure that any added or repaired details are fully reversible, so that removal of the restoration would not damage the original work. This goal may be more complex than it first appears, as few repairs are completely reversible.

An art restorer is usually a product of extensive training in a wide range of art-related subjects. Some receive university and post-graduate degrees that help prepare for a career, but the tradition of apprenticeship to master restorers is also popular in some parts of the world. Typically, a fully qualified restorer has spend many years doing internships and apprentice-level work before being allowed to attempt major restoration jobs.

Some important skills a restorer must possess include an excellent understanding of art history and a thorough education in modern restoration techniques. An art history background will help inform the restorer about the original piece; he or she may be able to quickly understand what tools were available, what pigments were used, and the techniques of the original artist by drawing on historical sources. In terms of restoration techniques, it is not uncommon for paintings and other artworks to be examined using x-ray machines and infrared technology to gain information about prior restorations and stability of the material,

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bythewell
Post 3

@croydon - I've seen a couple of documentaries on art restoration and it is actually quite fascinating and quite sad sometimes what happens to paintings. I'm always kind of shocked that people would ever try to deliberately harm a work of art, but it seems to happen quite often.

croydon
Post 2

@MrsPramm - Actually that's just a theory. They now think that the columns on the sides of the Mona Lisa that were supposedly chopped off, were simply added in copies of the painting by other artists and were never included in the original.

The Mona Lisa is an excellent example of preservation and restoration in the art world though. It's been attacked several times, once with acid, and it is still beautiful and easily seen. The lady is 500 years old now and was painted back before we had the understanding of chemistry that we have now and she is still lovely.

MrsPramm
Post 1

It does raise an interesting question of how far people should go. For example, the Mona Lisa was actually once larger than it is now. There were a couple of bits on the sides that were removed right after it was painted. So, if you really wanted to restore that painting, would you try to restore it to its original form, or would you leave it in the shape that the public is most familiar with?

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