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
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
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
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