Apprisal of Chinese Decorative Arts


Conservation and restoration have a deep impact on market value, no matter what kind of value we are taking about (fair market value, liquidation value, fair market value and aesthetic value). A condition rating of a “good” and “excellent” often result in a 15-20% difference in value. Works in poor condition might sell for more than 40% below the norm. If half or more of the work has been totally restored or repainted might be unsalable.

Conservation and restoration affect the market value of a work of art. The influence can be either positive or negative, depending on the general condition of the piece, the outcome of the intervention, the period of the work, the market to whom that object is being offered. The value of a conserved work will be increased if the treatment is superficial. A badly realized treatment means great loss when conservation is done skillfully. For example, works (photography drawing) on paper will suffer negatively in value if the conservation of damage is structural. Painting tends to react in a opposite way to conservation. If the damage treatment is structural, conservation will have a lesser impact than if the damage treatment is aesthetic.

Types of Damage
Serious condition problems are mostly caused by fire, theft and mishandling. Damage is usually divided into superficial and structural damages. Superficial damage (wrinkles or stains on the edges of painting) is located on the surface of the work of art and whose consequences do not affect any other part of the work. Structural damage (tears or losses of part of the work) on central image, background or perimeter and corner) affects the work deeply, allowing an appropriate treatment. Art appraiser must understand the impact of condition on value, the relationship between conservation and restoration and the economic value of two-dimensional artworks in valuation. The appraiser’s assessment on conservation and restoration of the damage (superficial and Structural) will either increase or decrease the value of the damaged piece.


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An art appraiser must understand how conservation and restoration affects the work of art’s market value in order to make a sensible judgment on the impact of damage on value.
Conservation is defined as operations and techniques employed with the ultimate goal of extending of the life of cultural goods. It refers to the preventative measures taken to avert potential damage to the artwork. Conservation is not only about treatments, but also about the challenge of conserving the original intent of the artist.
Restoration refers to an active intervention of the physicality of an artwork or fixing the damage. It is about replacement of the damaged area. Cesare Brandi defines restoration as “the mythological moment in which the work of art is recognized, in its physical being, and its dual aesthetic and historical nature, in view of its transmission to the future.”


The marketplace (private and public collectors and dealers) decides what treatment are acceptable and which are not. Buyers and sellers become suspicious about a work of art, depending on whether it has been conserved or not, or by whom and how. For historic and artistic works, cosmetic treatments are considered negative, while standard cleaning, deacidifying, buffering are considered perfectly okay. For photography, intensification of the negative with a chemical element to bring out the silver as much as possible is the kiss of death. For oil painting, lining canvases is considered as a high risk, since the surface many lose texture, and the layers of painting may be affected by external factors that come into play when lining with whichever adhesive. For Chinese scrolls, a replacement of mounting material, repairing the tears or wrinkles, or cleaning the stains are considered as an aesthetical restoration, however, remounting fragments into a full painting, entailing retouching the damaged pictorial details, would dent the commercial value of the restored piece, no matter how skilled the restoration is.


Condition is not the only factor affecting the market value of a work of art. Other factors, such as subject matter, provenance, format, condition, date of painting, visual appeal, also influence value. However, condition’s impact on value depends on its inherent characteristics (materials, age, craftsmanship and quality), having greater or lesser impact on its market price. Superficial damage caused by time, atmosphere agents or accidents restored by a skilled professional will probably increase in value, because the piece will look prettier. For a collector, weighing the type of damage (location, significance, cause and consequences), the possible restoration of the damage (what kind of outcome is predictable when considering appropriate treatment) and the period of the piece and, as a result, what market it is destined for, is necessary.

Condition is extremely important in the appraisal of fine arts, although it is not the only factor that comes into play. Art appraisers will consider whether the outcome of restoration or conservation would be desirable and positive in economic terms, that is, if it would increase the value of that work of art or not. They usually center their attention on the location of damage, the scope of damage, and the methods of restoration, weighing whether the damage blocks the viewer’s understanding of the subject matter or not.