Monday, July 29, 2013

Hidden Paintings, Covert Art: Once lost is now found- Intriguing and mysterious. Why would someone do SUCH a thing?!

Hidden from the IRS? The Nazis? Technology and luck help to find lost masterpieces.

Hidden Paintings: Lost and Forgotten, But Now They Are Found

Do I hear and “Amen!” to the fact that one of the most entertaining thoughts as a collector is to find another painting under the one you bought?! OMGosh, the stories that are told about hiding art from the Nazis or the IRS (no, I won’t comment), artists reusing their canvases and many more are plentiful and we hear them often here at Fine Art Conservation Laboratories. I have so many great stories of our adventures that my office manager keeps insisting that I write a book. Many of these stories involving “discovering hidden art.” I don’t think I’ll be a threat, however, for Daniel Silva! I do get comments once in awhile that I remind people of his main character who is an art restorer and spy. I read one of his books on a plane trip a few months ago. It was a page turner and I read the whole thing on the round trip.

One of the investigative tools that I use in professional art conservation is an infrared reflectometer to look under the thin layers of paint to see what we can see. In fact I made a video about Hidden Signatures on Paintings Discovered with Infrared” that has been quite popular and educational for art collectors. In fact, I was called and then used as the main expert on the hugely popular CNBC television series Treasure Detectives for their final episode of last season.

I used an infrared reflectometer when we received into the lab a really nice California Coastal scene by Orrin White, perhaps the nicest painting by this artist that I had ever seen. The back of the painting was painted white. An odd thing. So, we looked at this white backside and saw a ghost image in the monitor of a mountain, trees and perhaps a lake. The owner agreed to a cleaning test and we were able to remove some white paint to reveal the nice colors of the painting underneath. Finally, the curiosity was too much for the owner and we cleaned the white paint off to reveal…

At this point, I’m almost always asked, “Can you split the canvas so to end up with two paintings?” No, paintings on canvas cannot be done. However, I have done this work on a double sided artist pulp board panel that was made from layers of paper and that was thick enough to split safely for the paintings.

Cleaning off the overpaint from a painting that’s been “hidden” is a sketchy proposition. It worked to perfection in the painting mentioned above. But was less successful, yet super intriguing, with a portrait of well know LA art dealer, Earl Stendahl by an artist named Werner in 1932. The painting belonged to the old art dealer’s grandson but on the back of the painting was noted the Guy Rose estate stamp and an exhibition label for Rising Mists by Guy Rose. Whaaa?!?!?!  After inspection with infrared and the above described cleaning tests, it was decided to get into the removal of the portrait to rediscover the long lost painting by Guy Rose. Here’s what the result of the portrait removal was…

While the final picture matched the post-mortum exhibition catalog illustration for Rising Mists, the sale of the painting afterwards has not been successful. Personally, I like the picture a lot.

We’ve got another painting in the lab that has an abstract figurative painting over what appears as a landscape underneath. The top painting is flaking badly. The family history on the painting is that it was being hid back in the 1930’s from debt collectors cause it was super valuable. We’ll see… I’ve also had paintings brought to me that were painted over treasure maps being hid from the Nazis and smuggled out. A waste of time? Well, at least there’s a good story and a “look” in the eye of the owner.

I also once found an ad for a horseless carriage stretched over stretcher bars UNDER another stretched canvas of a historical building done in 1906. That was fun, but not as interesting as the recent article you can read here:

Museum has one more painting than it thought

Another work discovered during restoration of Frank C. Ashford painting  July 20, 2013|Staff reports

When a Frank C. Ashford painting was sent to Minneapolis to be restored, the Dacotah Prairie Museum found it had one more Ashford painting than it thought.
 The museum has long owned an original Ashford oil painting called “Portrait of a Young Woman.” With the support of the Yellow Brick Road Quester Club, the museum hired the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis to restore “Portrait of a Young Woman.”
 While the painting was in Minneapolis, the conservator removed the canvas from the frame to discover another painting of another young woman underneath.
 “This new Ashford painting, which will become part of the museum collection, is truly a gift since no one knew of its existence,” according to a museum news release.
 The two pieces will be jointly unveiled at a reception on Tuesday.
 The revitalization of “Portrait of a Young Woman” was completed with money raised by Aberdeen's Yellow Brick Road Quester Club and a South Dakota Preservation and Restoration Grant from the state Questers organization.

So, if you’ve read this far you are seriously in love with the art world. I trust you know the in’s and out’s of utilizing UV to inspect paintings for previous restorations and monkey business? It’s a major point of focus to learn to use this technology well, as an art collector. This is the due diligence that will raise questions that will save you $10,000’s or more, depending on your budget. Here’s a link to some videos and more info: UV Blacklight info

For art conservation and painting restoration questions call Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438 or

For art appraisal questions call Richard Holgate at 805 895 5121 or

See short videos by Scott M. Haskins on art conservation related subjects at YouTube channel “Bestartdoc

See short do-it-yourself videos on collection care and emergency preparedness for art collectors, family history items, heirlooms, memorabilia at Youtube Channel “preservationcoach

To learn more about what you can do at home to take care of your stuff, download now a copy of Scott Haskins’ book, How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster at 50% off! CLICK HERE to know more:

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