Last week a beautiful painting of a lady came into the lab. The back of the painting had fragments of an old ripped apart label. Labels are apart of the painting’s history and can increase the value by providing an interesting insight to the past. This particular label told the story of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1930’s. However, not every story is as obvious.
Below is a label that was brought to us with what looked like just an old hopelessly blank piece of paper. No writing on it… or was there? With infrared technology you can sometimes read old obscured writing… and we at Fine Art Conservation Laboratories happen to have two types of infrared reflectometers. Under the lights and with the aid of the infrared we were able to see that it was an exhibition label from the World’s Fair of 1861. It clearly read, “Richmond, Yorkshire England, James Peale, 1858″
Amazing what technology can see that the eye can not! This old label had given up its secret information that has meant everything to the history and value of this wonderful painting. Because of this label, the value went up considerably. And therein lies the lesson to be learned, especially on old paintings: Protect old labels and the historical information they contain.
Here’s an example of what we do to protect old labels: Deacidify the paper and protect them with Mylar. Protect important info from the past! It can increase the value of the artwork. Flaking of labels when moving the painting can happen when you do not even realize it. Preventing the loss of valuable information can be simple and easily avoided.
Here are some tips to help save your significant piece of history! 1. De-acidify the paper to neutralize the acids, this will stop any further deterioration. 2. Encapsulate all pieces (even ones you think do not have any information on them!) This step can be done with something as simple as a sandwich bag (it is a stable archival plastic). 3. Staple the bag to a part of the stretcher bar (as shown above). Remember to NEVER staple, tape or glue directly any part of the label or historic info written on the artwork.
NOTICE on the back of the painting and frame new mounting hardware (nails are never hammered into a painting) new wire (coated with plastic to retard rust) and Foamcor to keep out dust and provide protection against poor handing and storage.
These are just a few tips to help save historical information or even your personal memorabilia! There are many other tips and info available in the book, How To Save Your Stuff that you can find at http://www.saveyourstuffblog.com/products-supplies. Download a copy of the e-book now at 50% discount!
Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins, Art Conservator at 805 564 3438
Art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate, Art Appraiser, at 805 895 5121
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Keywords: Old labels on paintings, authentication of artwork, provenance of paintings, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories