Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Fine Art > Expert Tip: THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting


How to Spot Real American Folk Art Paintings

European Roots

An American Style

Glossary of American Art

Things to Look For

Collecting American Art

California & Regional Paintings

About the Expert

Native American Blankets

Native American Jewelry

A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting

Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting

Once you've found the right painting - whether a small still life or a sweeping historical scene ­­ you should carefully examine its condition. Art experts can help you with this. Older oil paintings often show crackle, or crazing, on the surface of the work, while scuffs, water stains, and faded colors can also detract from a painting's value. You should also look for signs of how much restoration work has been done. There are tools, such as an ultra-violet light, which can show exactly how much a painting as been "touched up".

While I usually tell clients to look for paintings in as close to original condition as possible, you do not have to be afraid of all restoration work. Recently we sold a large, heavily-restored painting by the artist James Walker entitled "The Battle of Buena Vista" for $180,000 more than ten times the original asking price. If the painting had been in mint condition it might have gone for far more. But evidently buyers felt that, even with the restoration, it was still a rare and valuable piece. Another thing to keep in mind is that original restoration work can often be re-done and improved with modern techniques. And sometimes when the old restoration work is removed, it reveals more of the original painting underneath, which is another way to boost value.

At Butterfields, we do all we can to ensure that our clients are informed before they buy. Our online sales contain a wealth of information about each individual piece. And we also offer a standard condition report on each painting, giving our expert assessment of the physical condition of the artwork. The provenance of all of our paintings are verified by the world's leading art experts. And we are always happy to answer any specific questions buyers might have, either by phone or email or in person in our showrooms in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Once you have made your purchase, we strongly recommend that you take out adequate insurance. I am always surprised at how many people do not bother to protect their assets.

Paintings bring real life to a house, and can be one form of investment that gives your family pleasure each and every day. But one should always take care when deciding where to display each work. Water colors are liable to fade, and should be kept out of bright, sunny spaces. Oil paintings are more durable, but they too can weather and age when placed in direct sunlight.

If you decide to store your painting, make sure to do so in a clean, dry place. I keep mine in carpet-lined bins in my garage, but many people simply put them in a secure closet. One thing to be careful about is the possibility of water damage. We see a lot of paintings that were stored in basements and come to us with big water stains. That can ruin even the best painting.

Cleaning paintings is, generally, a job that should be left to experts. Here again, befriending a good and reliable restorer can prove very useful! Often all that is needed is a light cleaning, or tightening up the canvas on its stretcher. Avoid using sprays, or chemically treated cloth, to wipe off paintings as sometimes the chemicals can react badly with the paint. And it is not a good idea to use water and sponge­­ moisture that gets behind paint can literally lift it off the canvas. I always tell my clients to invest in a good frame. It not only showcases the artwork to its best advantage, but also helps to preserve it for the future.

Collecting American art can be a richly rewarding experience. No matter which area of American painting you chose to focus on, you will find art with a uniquely American viewpoint, offering us both a glimpse into our past, and inspiration for our future.

Scot Levitt, Director of American and California Paintings


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