Fine Art and full disclosure / by kevin murray

In a world in which masterpieces of art are auctioned off for millions upon millions of dollars, one would think that those buying and trading such, would really want to know absolutely everything about that piece of art, and in particular, its restoration history.  Truth be told,  just about everything in masterpiece art world, really isn’t completely on the up and up, and deliberately so, because when art galleries, museums, and auction houses, discuss with reverence  historic artists such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, da Vinci, an so on, they know that in virtually every case that the art so being displayed is not now entirely by their hand, and if full disclosure was made, would not therefore actually be considered to be authentic, by any real definition of that word.

The very first hint that there just couldn’t conceivably be a way that paintings created 400-500 years ago, could still maintain vividness of color as well as their robustness is the very basic knowledge that most sentient people are aware of, which is that material objects which are not climate protected, one hundred percent of the time, from any and all of nature’s elements such as wind, rain, and sun are going to ultimately find those elements to be debilitating to any work of art.   Additionally, even art that is kept indoors and hence away from the most obvious harmful elements, still will suffer from the ravages of time, from humidity, light, and other factors, most particularly when that art is not deliberately protected at the highest possible level.  So too, the construction of most art pieces is not done in a format, which consciously considers that the length of time of its material constitution and construction elements is somehow the prevailing consideration of that art piece, and hence the viability and quality of masterpieces is finite, without an act of restoration.

So then, it could be said, and probably should be said, that some of the finest masterpieces in museums and art galleries, are at best, a faithful and devoted restoration of the piece as it was original conceived, in a style of the artist that so painted it; but in many cases, probably a disturbingly high percentage of cases, the restorations have been done so many different times, by so many different hands, by so many different degrees of skill and knowledge, that to say a given piece is a Rubens is not the whole truth.  After all, if movies, can run disclaimers that state that this movie “has been modified from its original version,” most definitely all of these fine masterpieces need the same sort of disclosure, if not more.  In fact, in the interests of full disclosure, there should be a history, or the best attempt of a history, of all the restorations done to any piece of great art, especially that art, that people flock to see from all over the world. However, this probably won’t be done anytime soon, if ever, because what the art world most definitely does not want to do, is to discredit the authenticity of the institution that benefits in particular some very highly placed individuals, but would instead, prefer to stick with the current narrative that most people, don’t seem to challenge much; though it would be nice to really see, for example, an original Botticelli, untouched and unvarnished, though faded and ravished through the ages of time, just to be able to appreciate the real authentic thing.