Like aging movie stars, most paintings need professional help as they start to droop and sag. Fortunately, adding a canvas lining usually isn't as expensive or as traumatic as plastic surgery. Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals

 

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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Fine Art > Expert Tip: Relining Old Paintings
 



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RELINING OLD PAINTINGS
It's not a do-it-yourself operation


 Like aging movie stars, most paintings need professional help as they start to droop and sag. Fortunately, adding a canvas lining usually isn't as expensive or as traumatic as plastic surgery.

 Barry Bauman, owner and director of the Chicago Conservation Center, says most paintings require lining work by the time they're 150 years old, often due to humidity or rough handling. The terms lining and relining, while very similar, refer to two different procedures. Attaching a backing to a previously unlined painting is called lining. Attaching a new backing to an older, deteriorating canvas is called relining. 

Oil painting before undergoing relining process
Oil painting before
undergoing relining process

  A careful observer can tell when a painting needs work. "A painting will usually develop concentric arch-shaped cracks radiating from the corners," Bauman says. "At that point I feel justified that the painting would be better preserved by having it go through a lining process."
 Lining and relining are not do-it-yourself operations, no matter how Martha-like you are, according to Elizabeth Kendall, owner and director of Parma Conservation, in Chicago. 
 "A lot of times museums have lists of private conservators in the area who are experienced," she says. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works offers a free booklet about choosing a conservator. The institute also names certain conservators Fellows based on their experience and publications.

Oil painting after relining process
Oil painting after
relining process

The primary goal in the lining process is to save the painting without altering it in an irreversible way. Choosing the proper adhesive to bind the new lining to the painting is key.

"You could probably talk to 10 different restorers and get 10 different takes on doing things well," Kendall says. "I really believe in using products similar to the original painting, so as not to alter the chemicals."

Kendall and Bauman agreed that new synthetic adhesives like Beva and Plexisol have helped improve the lining process because they aren't water-based and don't react to humidity. Unlike Bauman, however, Kendall avoids wax, which she says can penetrate the layers of the painting and slightly alter its appearance.

Choosing the linen canvas lining typically is easier. If the painting has been lined before, conservators try to pick a linen canvas that matches the weave and thread count of the previous canvas. "If you have a fine weave canvas and you mount it to a coarse weave canvas, you'll be able to see the coarseness of that weave from the front," Bauman says. "That really diminishes the value of the painting."

Both Bauman and Kendall said costs vary widely for lining and relining, depending on the nature of the problem and the age of the painting. "You should try to find the best conservator," Bauman says. "People don't go to a doctor and compare prices. If you have something you love and something that's valuable to you, you shouldn't worry about the price."

For more information, contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works at 202-452-9545.





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