I want to wish all of our friends and their families a very happy holiday season!
We all know that ‘Mother Earth’ needs all the help she can get, and while we should all do our fair share, the ‘environment’ I will be discussing is the best one for your works of art.
To begin with, I believe that works of art will easily adjust to small changes in their environment. What I mean by this is that … if you purchase a work of art that has spent most of its life in a dry climate, and you live in a more humid climate, the work might go through a small adjustment period, but in the end it should stabilize and will be fine in its new home. Keep in mind that today most people live in homes that are both centrally heated and cooled, resulting in fairly uniform ‘indoor’ environments throughout the country … causing the ‘outdoor’ environment to play a much smaller role.
Of course, once a work has adjusted to its new home it is advisable to keep its new environment relatively stable. Works of art generally fare well in conditions that are comfortable for people, which for me is a good thing as I would hate to learn that my paintings need to be kept in frigid conditions while I love the warm weather!
While researching this topic I came across The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works’ (AIC) web site. Their site offers a wonderful, though somewhat technical, guide to Maintaining a Suitable Environment. To begin with it states:
The structural components of a painting expand and contract in different ways as the surrounding temperature and humidity fluctuate. For example, the flexible canvas may become slack or taut in a changing environment, while the more brittle paint may crack, curl, or loosen its attachment to the underlying layers. If a painting could be maintained in an optimum environment, in one location at a constant temperature and humidity level, many of the problems requiring the services of a paintings conservator could be prevented.
Some of you may notice that when a work of art arrives at your home the canvas may actually be looser than it was when you saw it in the gallery … this has to do with changes in humidity … the more humid the air, the looser the canvas will become. Many times, once the canvas has adjusted to its new environment, it will once again become taut. However, if this does not happen, look at the back of the painting and you will notice that there are small triangular shaped pieces of wood (called ‘keys’) in each corner of the stretcher. By tapping these keys with a small hammer you will spread the stretcher and, in turn, tighten the canvas.
If you decide to tackle this easy procedure, be sure to tap all of the ‘keys’ evenly and please be careful … you do not want to hit the canvas with the hammer as it may cause some damage.
The AIC continues:
Environmental guidelines have been developed for different types of materials. Paintings on canvas may react more quickly to rising and falling humidity levels than paintings on wood panels, but the dimensional changes that can occur in a wood panel can cause more structural damage. Owners of panel paintings should be particularly conscientious about avoiding unusually low or high relative humidity and temperatures to prevent warping, splitting, or breaking of the wood.
Museums strive to maintain constant temperature and humidity levels for works of art, but even with expensive environmental control systems this task can be difficult. In most cases, gradual seasonal changes and small fluctuations are less harmful than large environmental fluctuations. Avoiding large fluctuations is very important. For example, a painting stored in what would generally be considered poor conditions (such as a cold, damp castle in England) may remain structurally secure for centuries, but begin to deteriorate rapidly if moved into "stable" museum conditions simply because of the extreme change in its environment.
Wow! That sounded a bit scary, but please do not panic! Remember that most works of art you are thinking of purchasing have been in relatively stable environments for many years, if not their entire life. The small changes they may go through … e.g. being move from a home in New York City to one in New Orleans … will have little effect on them.
The AIC also states that:
One of the simplest and most important preservation steps you can take is have protective backing board attached to paintings. A Fome-Cor (or archival cardboard backing) screwed to the reverse of a painting will slow environmental exchange through a canvas, keep out dust and foreign objects, and protect against damage during handling. Be sure that the backing board covers the entire back of the picture; do not leave air vent holes, which can cause localized environmental conditions and lead to cracks in paint. The backing board should be attached to the reverse of the stretcher or strainer, not to the frame.
Those of you who have purchased a work of art from us will know that we are big fans of adding a protective backing to the work of art – usually a white board that is screwed on to the back of the stretcher. Please remember to leave this protective backing on the work after you receive it.
I know that it sounds like there is a lot to be concerned with in terms of the ‘environment’, but it is important to remember that most works of art have survived quite well, even those that were kept in less than optimum conditions. As long as you are careful and take basic precautions (not storing it in a damp basement or excessively hot attic) your works of art should remain in good condition.
I am sure that many of you are wondering … how is the art market faring in relationship to the stock market? Well, I am going to tell you!
As it has been for many years now, good works of art are selling and mediocre/poor works are not. In our opinion, this makes for a healthy ‘art market’. We always stress the fact that people need to be concerned with many aspects of a work: condition, period, quality, size, subject matter, etc., and that since most of you are not experts in this area, it would be advisable to find someone who knows what he/she is doing … someone who can be your guide!
During the past month, major sales of Impressionist and Contemporary works of art took place in New York and London and the results were strong ... at least they were for the ‘good quality’ works!
In the Contemporary field, Claus Oldenburg’s Light Switches – Hard Version sold for $692,500 - a record for a sculpture by the artist; Morris Louis' Untitled from c.1959 made a record $1.6 million; Wayne Thiebaud’s Freeways made just over $3,000,000; Barnett Newman’s White Fire I from 1958 made a record $3.8 million; Franz Kline’s Ninth Street made a record $4,519,500; a Cy Twombly “chalkboard” painting made $5,619,500; Roy Lichtenstein’s Happy Tears, from 1964, sold for a record $7.1 million; and a small work by Willem de Kooning sold for $13,210,000.
In the Impressionist realm, Picasso’s Monkey with Young made a record price for a sculpture by Picasso when it sold for $6,719,500; record prices were also paid for Julio Gonzalez’s Homme gothique ($3.4 million); Alexej von Jawlensky’s Junges Madchen mit den gruen Augen ($3.3 million); Theo van Rysselberghe’s Violiers sur I’Escault ($2.65 million); Max Ernst’s The King Playing with the Queen ($2.43 million) and, while not a record price, Claude Monet’s Nympheas (1906) made a respectable $18.7 million.
Now, how has the Stock Market fared? It appears to be in a holding pattern ... which I guess is a good thing for all of us. In some of my past newsletters I have used one of my portfolios to illustrate the state of the stock market and here I go again …
The IRA I set up many years ago, and which I recently figured would zero-out in less than 5 years, appears to have halted its nasty downward spiral. As of the date I wrote this newsletter its value was approximately $24,500 … a far cry from the $98,000 just a couple of years ago, but up from the $18,000 just a few months ago. Could we have hit bottom? Only time will tell.
As the old saying goes … “you can’t take it with you” … so why not buy a nice work of art and enjoy some of it now!!
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City- December 2002
Gallery Updates: The gallery has acquired new works by Édouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, Henry Victor Lesur, Henry John Yeend King, Ludovico Marchetti, Heidi Coutu and Sally Swatland – some of which have been added to our site.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have added one work to – Rehs Galleries: A Visual History … Daniel Ridgway Knight’s En Vendanges (Grape Harvest). This painting was sold by the gallery in 1991 … 86 years after it made its debut at the Paris Salon exhibition of 1905. The direct link to this new image is as follows:
Daniel Ridgway Knight - En Vendanges
Since our last newsletter we have sold a number of wonderful paintings. Among them were Eugene Verboeckhoven’s Sheep and Poultry in a Landscape; Henry John Yeend King’s Milking Time; Victor Marais-Milton’s Education; Heidi Coutu’s Oriental Poppy Garden; a number of Sally Swatlands including: The Connecticut Shore and Conversation by the Tidal Pool; Antoine Blanchard’s Place de la Madeleine and Rue Tronchet; and 2 great Cortès’ – Scene de Village and Pont Alexandre III.
Next Month: Continuing on my “How to Care for Your Works of Art” series I will discuss – Insurance.