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The Lost Wax Process
     An Overview with Constance Pach
Lighting and Cleaning of Watercolors
     How to Care for your Watercolors : Part Three
Conservation Framing Techniques
     How to Care for your Watercolors : Part Two
Protecting Your Watercolors From Fading
     How to Care for your Watercolors : Part One
Read the Fine Print
     Buying at Auction : Part Two
Trouble at the Auctions
     Buying at Auction : Part One
How Do We Hang a Painting?
     Frequently Asked Questions : Part Four
What Can We Tell You About A Painting You Have?
     Frequently Asked Questions : Part Three
How Do We Price Older American Paintings?
     Frequently Asked Questions : Part One


The Lost Wax Process
An Overview with Constance Pach

A Seven-Thousand-Year Tradition in Casting Bronze: The Lost Wax Process

As the early cave men discovered, when copper is thrown into a fire, it melts and can be made into shapes. Then some time between 3000-4000 B.C. a small miracle happened: tin was mixed with the copper and the resultant hybrid was stronger than either metal alone. The Bronze Age commenced with this discovery.

Modern methods employ the techniques that have been used for millennia in creating metal sculptures, although new materials have been introduced to perfect the lost wax process.

Why does Constance Pach want to undertake the demanding process of having her sculpture cast in bronze? “A question I often ask myself …My answer – there are other mediums such as wood, clay, welded metals or stone that I work with that are better suited to some forms of expression. But bronze is a medium of the ages, a medium that has a long history in the making of sculptural art. A bronze sculpture has an inner depth and glow, an aura of its own not found elsewhere.”

The Lost Wax Process: An Overview of the Technique

The making of The Avon Boy by Constance Pach, commissioned by Avon Old Farms Schools, 1987

At the foundry
pouring bronze
into ceramic mold

Create Clay Original

Coat clay with rubber to form mold; open mold and remove clay original

Pour wax into rubber mold; remove hardened wax and correct/refine details

Dip wax into silica slurry or ceramic to form mold (“invest the wax”)

Kiln-fire to harden investment (mold) and melt out wax (the “lost wax” process)

Pour molten bronze into the investment where wax was “lost”

Chip off investment, remove sprue system and clean up surface (“chase” the bronze casting)

Heat bronze and treat with chemicals to obtain desired color and finish (patina)

Mount on base

After 300 hours of
work, the clay
original is complete
At the foundry
applying the patina
Finished sculpture

“It is important for me to express to you how much I truly enjoy Avon Boy. He is a masterpiece. I have seen art the world over, much of it the world-renowned variety of museums and art galleries. Nothing, with the exception of two statues at Princeton University and Viegland Park, compares with Avon Boy, in my humble opinion. He is spectacular…I am thrilled that I can look out my window and see him.”

-George M. Trautman, Headmaster
Avon Old Farms School, CT

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Lighting and Cleaning of Watercolors
How to Care for your Watercolors: Part Three

Q: How should I light a watercolor?

First, we recommend lighting your artwork either with ceiling lighting or, if the frame allows, with a good picture light. Ceiling light angled at 30 degrees will often dissipate the glare, particularly at night. We caution against the use of fluorescent and halogen lighting which emit harmful amounts of ultraviolet light. If you choose halogen bulbs, use an ultraviolet (UV) filter.

Second, UV-filtering museum glass is available with a non-reflective, non-distorting surface which we highly recommend for most works on paper. There is still some distortion, however, which may cause a small amount of blurring in small, highly detailed works.

Aiden Lassell Ripley
Middle Dam, on the Rapid River, Western Maine
Watercolor on paper, 15 x 20 1/2 inches
Signed lower left: A. Lassell Ripley

Q: How should I keep the UV-protective plexiglass and glass free of dust and streaks?

Household glass cleaners, such as Windex, should never be used on plexiglass! It will scratch the surface and cause it to yellow over time. Clean only with a mild solution of detergent and water or with special plastic cleaner using an especially soft cloth. First, remove your artwork from the wall and lay it flat. Apply cleaner to the cloth instead of directly onto the surface to avoid liquid running under the surface, and then buff until clear.

Reflection-control glass also requires a special cleaning solution. Your framer will suggest a cleaner for your particular type of non-glare glass.

Q: I like the light and airy feeling of watercolors. Can I hang them in my beach house?

If your beach house is climate-controlled, you’re all set. Otherwise, no! Humidity, along with air pollution, dust and temperature changes can all deteriorate paper. Ideally, temperatures should be kept fairly constant, below 75 degrees at a relative humidity of 50 to 65 percent, in no case going below 30 percent. The use of humidifiers and de-humidifiers can be appropriate aids in maintaining a proper environment. In caring for all art work, extreme fluctuations of temperature or humidity should be avoided.

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Conservation Framing Techniques
How to Care for your Watercolors: Part Two

Q: I want to go to a do-it-yourself frame store to save money framing our new watercolor. Is there any need to have a professional framer do the work at several times the price?

Considering that you may have spent several thousand dollars on your watercolor, you need to take steps to protect your investment. Framing in accordance with museum standards, or "conservation framing", helps reduce the effects of atmospheric exposure on works on paper. Specifically, air pollution can contain high levels of sulfur dioxide which combines with oxygen and moisture to form sulfuric acid which decomposes paper. A professional framer pays careful attention to the frame, the glazing, the mat or spacer, the mounting and the backing.

Walter Farndon
Hempstead Harbor, Long Island
Watercolor on paper, 15 x 20 1/4 inches
Signed lower right: Walter Farndon N.A.

A mat is a buffer, separating the artwork from the glazing. Since paper expands and contracts in reaction to humidity and temperature, the mat allows for this movement. It also prevents mold from forming between the artwork and the glazing. The mat board should be 100 percent rag and acid-free, preferably four-ply which has good resistance against aging and the growth of fungi (mildew) which causes a condition called foxing. Cheaper board will cause mat burn, which can render the work nearly worthless; it can also be a host for parasites which then attack the artwork.

This artwork should be attached to the mat with 100 percent acid-free hinges, adhered with a water-based paste (the best hinges are made from Japanese tissue paper and are applied with cooked, gluten-free wheat starch paste). Pressure sensitive adhesives should not be used, even those that are labeled archival. Gummed linen tape should also be avoided except when necessary to hold large heavy prints. Picture-mounting corners, made of acid-free paper or polyester (Mylar), can also be used so that no adhesive comes in contact with the art. Sometimes the mat is further separated from the glazing with the use of a spacer, which may be hidden in the rabbit of the frame or may be visible as gold leaf or a decorative color surrounding the artwork.

An acid-free board is fitted to the back of the mat and a sheet of paper, also acid-free, is attached to the back of the frame, forming a seal. Wooden backings found on nineteenth-century frames contain acids and resins that stain and decompose artwork; they should be removed. Some conservators recommend sealing the artwork with impermeable material, such as Mylar, to help minimize the effects of pollutants and relative humidity. This material also protects against dust, one of the major carriers of micro-organisms. Dust allowed to accumulate penetrates the paper and cannot be removed by erasers or washing.

Now that you have paid heed to conservation guidelines, pick out the most handsome frame you can afford to set off your watercolor – nothing looks worse than an inexpensive frame! A professional has the experience to guide you in selecting an aesthetically pleasing mat and frame.

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Protecting Your Watercolors From Fading
How to Care for your Watercolors: Part One

Q: Aren’t Watercolors fragile? How long will they last?

The quality of the pigment itself is what determines a watercolor’s permanence. Properly cared for, watercolors made with permanent colors on good quality paper are as permanent as any other medium. However, pigments that change when exposed to light will be especially noticeable in watercolor paintings, because the washes are so thin. Since light is a major catalyst, watercolors should be kept out of direct light and protected by a sheet of filtered glass or acrylic. They should also be mounted in acid-free mat board to keep the paper from discoloring over time.

Vladimir Pavlosky
Checking the Nets
Watercolor on paper, 17 x 23 inches
Signed lower left: Vladimir Pavlosky


For example, when John James Audubon’s hand-colored engravings have been kept in their original books, they remain as true and vibrant as when they were painted, first because they are protected from light and second because the quality of the paper that surrounds the prints is very high. When the books are broken up, however, they may be exposed to light and acidic framing materials. Color deterioration can vary from mild to a severe, rendering some virtually worthless. Writes Christa M. Gaehde, formerly on the conservation staff of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: "Many fine prints have survived in pristine condition for centuries, but many more have been damaged and lost through neglect and ill treatment."

Watercolors take special care, but their appeal lies in the spontaneity and subtle coloring not found in oils. Today’s modern methods of framing, particularly the development of special glazing that can block 98 percent of ultraviolet light, have provided collectors with the tools necessary to enjoy these fresh works indefinitely.

Q: How can I protect my watercolor from fading?

Direct sunlight should not come in contact with any work of art, including oils. Unprotected watercolors are particularly fragile – even a few weeks in direct sunlight or in a very bright room with reflected light can fade the impermanent pigments and embrittle the paper. The paper may also become bleached or yellowed.

Clear glass does provide some protection to your work on paper, but it still allows 53% of harmful ultraviolet rays to filter through. Newly developed ultraviolet filtering glass now has a thin coating that blocks more than 97% of ultraviolet light and protects your artwork from becoming brittle and faded. A line of ultraviolet acrylic glazing has also been used successfully for years and can block up to 99% of harmful rays. While it is less likely to shatter than glass, the surface is quite susceptible to scratches and glare can be a problem.

Conservation glasses are also available with a lightly etched surface that acts to diffuse light and minimizes unwanted glare. The downside of reflection control glass is that it displays a slightly greenish tint and can cause a subtle softening of the image.

A new type of glass called museum glass has been developed that filters out 98% of ultraviolet light. In addition, this new glass dramatically cuts down on glare with extremely thin layers of a special coating that diffuse the incoming light rays. Because these rays are not deflected, it actually allows more light to illuminate your artwork than what is transmitted by standard glass. This can make the image appear brighter and more vibrant. While it is expensive, the cost seems well worth it to preserve a watercolor selling in the thousands and displaying the work at its best.

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Read the Fine Print
Buying at Auction: Part Two

Written by Marcia L. Vose, Vice-President

Would you patronize a dealer who offered no guarantees on authenticity, condition, or even a reliable description of an artwork? I call your attention to the "conditions of sale" excerpted from recent catalogues of two very prominent auction houses:

"All statements made by us in the catalogue entry for the property or in the condition report, or any statements made orally, are statements of opinion and are not to be relied upon as statements of fact. Such statements do not constitute a warranty of any kind."

"We offer no guarantee regarding authenticity, condition, or description."

"All property is sold as is. We do not make any representation or warranty of any kind with respect to any of the following characteristics: age, authenticity, genuineness, attribution, provenance, origin, physical material, period, culture, source, or origin."

For years the public has been lulled into thinking that the larger auction houses stand behind the paintings they sell. What a costly assumption! Let me share with you some of our experiences buying at auction. A few years back, because we did not have enough time to examine a painting we liked, we relied on the auction house’s report, which stated the painting was in good condition. After we purchased the work, our restorer found a masking varnish that obscured in-painting, paint that had been applied by a conservator, covering nearly 25% of the canvas (our standard is a maximum of 5%). When we asked for a refund, claiming that their condition report was misleading, auction lawyers referred us to the catalogue caveat that all work is sold "as is". While the auction house will provide a report for our convenience, they cannot be held accountable for anything they say. One may then question why they bother to give a report at all! Furthermore, since our conservator had tested a tiny spot on the canvas, the auction house argued that it was not in the same condition as when sold and could not be returned! They offered to contact the underbidders to see if they would be interested in the work, a remedy that we declined. The painting is currently in our inventory at half what the price should be, but with the condition accurately described.

At a smaller auction last fall I asked to see condition reports on thirty-four paintings. Of these, the auction house reported that thirty-two were in fine shape. When I examined the group, this time in person and equipped with a black light, I found that all but one was covered with a heavy milky varnish, a sign that a masking varnish had been applied in order to obscure extensive in-painting underneath. To the unknowing eye, the canvases looked perfect – and all of them sold at good prices!

Certainly attending auctions is exciting and a great way to hone your eye, but for anyone thinking about buying, be sure to have a conservator examine the piece, and get advice from a professional regarding authenticity and the true merits of the work. One auction house, by the way, will not guarantee the authenticity of any painting executed before 1870!

We at Vose Galleries stand behind every painting that we sell. Period. The results of thorough examinations are always made available. Our professional research staff contacts experts in the field to verify attributions and provide valuable information about provenance and exhibition histories. By law we operate under very different rules. A dealer makes an express warranty of authentication be it verbal or written, and if a painting proves to be a fake, the dealer is exposed to breach of warranty. The buyer may take action within the applicable statute of limitations under the Uniform Commercial Code. Many reputable dealers will readily take back a work that is questioned because they know that both professional reputation and legal liability are at stake.

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Trouble at the Auctions
Buying at Auction: Part One

Have you been reading about the troubles at Sotheby’s over the past two years? Are you wondering why A. Alfred Taubman, chairman of Sotheby’s, went to jail, and under what circumstances both auction power houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, were fined $512 million to settle civil claims against them? What follows is a brief synopsis of the chain of events of the past ten years that led to the eventual demise of some of the most influential people in the art world.

A. Alfred Taubman, a shopping-mall mogul worth $770 million, bought the suffering auction company in 1983. He turned it into a successful commercial enterprise, expanding its clientele from art dealers to the moneyed elite through a careful marketing campaign and through popular sales, such as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate sale in 1996. The self-made Taubman is also a major philanthropist, donating to the arts, education, medical research, and religious charities. He appointed D. Diana "Dede" Brooks president and CEO in 1994. Brooks came to the company from a successful banking career, and during her six-year tenure at the company, she was arguably the most successful and influential woman in the art world.

After a series of closed-door meetings between the houses’ two chairmen, A. Alfred Taubman and Anthony Tennant, orders were given to the companies’ chief executive officers, D. Diana Brooks and Christopher Davidge, to end the houses’ competition by fixing commissions and eliminating discounts to clients. Brooks and Davidge came up with a plan to charge sellers the same standard, non-negotiable fees in order to eliminate the fierce and costly competition to attract consignments. They also agreed to keep quiet about their plans. Soon after, Sotheby’s raised the buyer commissions on the first $50,000 of the final purchase price of an item from 10% to 15 %. Six weeks later, Christie’s followed suit. In 1995, Christie’s took the lead by instituting a sliding scale for its fees. Sotheby’s adopted the practice soon after. This was price-fixing, pure and simple, and it attracted the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which began an investigation in 1997.

In January, the Justice Department’s probe went public with the announcement that Christie’s was cooperating in exchange for conditional immunity from criminal prosecution. Davidge confirmed price-fixing and anti-competitive activities; Taubman and his protégé Brooks resigned from Sotheby’s, with Taubman denying any knowledge of the escapades and implicating Brooks as the mastermind. In September 2002, both auction houses agreed to pay $512 million to settle a class action civil suit. Taubman agreed to pay $156 million of Sotheby’s share from his own pocket. He also paid $30 million to settle shareholder lawsuits, which resulted from the plummeting stock of the company once the scandal broke.

In turn, with testimony provided by his former star, Brooks, a federal grand jury indicted Taubman and his counterpart at Christie’s, Anthony J. Tennant. Tennant, a citizen of Great Britain, was not extradited. Taubman stood trial in New York, was found guilty, and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and a fine of $7.5 million. He is currently serving his term.

In addition, Sotheby’s was fined $45 million for price-fixing, and Brooks was also convicted for her role in the scandal. She was fined $350,000, ordered to serve 1,000 hours of community service, and sentenced to three years’ probation, the first six months of which she would spend in home detention. Her term ended on November 8, 2002, and she is currently serving the remainder of her probation.

Amazingly enough, the scandal has not crippled the houses’ ability to do business. While total revenues have dropped somewhat from the heady days of the 1990s, this past July, Sotheby’s sold Peter Paul Rubens’ The Massacre of the Innocents for $76.7 million, the third highest price ever paid for a painting at auction. The paintings keep coming, and the customers keep bidding, and it seems that Sotheby’s and Christie’s will emerge from the scandal basically unscathed.

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How Do We Hang a Painting?
Frequently Asked Questions: Part Four

Hanging Hardware Metal loops attached to plates are preferred for heavy works while screw eyes may be used for hanging small works or for frames not large enough to support plates. Hanging hooks should be placed 1/3 of the way down from the top of the frame. Picture wire, preferably of copper for heavy works or twisted wire of appropriate strength, should be stretched between the two loops allowing for a little give. The ends of the wires should extend several inches beyond the hooks to allow for height adjustment. Knot and twist the wire around itself for better security. Bumpers, made from cork or rubber should be glued to the back corners of the frame to allow for air circulation and to protect your walls. Be sure that your walls are sturdy enough to support the weight of the painting. Otherwise, special hooks must be used.

How High? Henry Heydenryk, Jr., author of The Right Frame, advises, “a good picture should be hung low, except in the most unusual circumstances.” The viewer, therefore, should be looking slightly down at a work of art, resulting in the middle of the work hanging from sixty to sixty-five inches from the floor in a room in which most people are standing. In a dining room, however, works should be hung even lower to accommodate seated viewers.

Method We recommend hanging with two hooks to eliminate shifting and to insure the safety of the work. Hooks should be spaced at spots equal to ½ the width of the art work. As an example, let’s assume that we are hanging a painting measuring 24 inches high and 36 inches wide, including the frame. Wall hooks would be located 18 inches apart. Hanging hooks would be located 8 inches from the top of the frame, 1/3 of the vertical measure.

1. Hold the painting in the desired spot. Using a pencil, mark the wall faintly at the middle of the top of the frame. Measure the distance from the mark to the ceiling or ceiling moulding which we will call measurement A. Assuming the height of the wall is 94 inches and our mark is at 74 inches, measurement A in our example would be 20 inches.

2. To figure where the wall hangers should be placed, use a tape rule and your index fingers to flex the wire on the back of the painting at two points which measure 1/2 of the width of the painting. In our example, your fingers would be 18 inches apart (1/2 of 36 inches, the width of the painting and frame). Measure the approximate distance of the wire in this position to the top of the frame. In our example we will assume this measurement to be six inches which we will call measurement B.

3. Now we make a mark six inches (measurement B) below measurement A, or 26 inches from the ceiling. From this point, make a mark 9 inches to the left and 9 inches to the right. These measurements will be the spot at which to hang your hooks. Be sure they also measure 26 inches from the ceiling.

Voila! Now you are ready to hang your painting. Not happy with the results? You can adjust the picture wire to give some leeway in height.

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What Can We Tell You About A Painting You Have?
Frequently Asked Questions: Part Three

One of our most common phone queries is, "I found a painting at a yard sale; can you tell me something about the artist?" We usually can, even if it’s just a basic biography. An excellent starting point for research on an individual artist is Who Was Who in American Art, edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Compiled from the original 30 volumes of the American Art Annual, which was published from 1898 to 1933, it is especially valuable because the information in the Art Annuals was provided by the artists themselves. This artist index was recently republished in 1999 in three large volumes, making it one of the most comprehensive listings of American artists.

Another readily used source is Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. First published in 1926, Mantle Fielding offers a quick sketch of an artist, including birth and death dates, and place of study.

Although it is much less comprehensive, American Art Analog is a helpful reference because in addition to a more lengthy biography, each of the 800+ entries usually includes a reproduction of the artist’s work.

We also consult specialized reference books such as Dorothy E. R. Brewington’s Dictionary of Marine Artists. If we don’t know an artist’s name but he/she signed with a monogram we might consult the Dictionary of Signatures and Monograms of American Artists by Peter Hastings Falk.

If an artist is from the Boston area we frequently turn to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston catalogue The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870 - 1930. Published in 1986, the excellent biographies compiled by Erica E. Hirshler provide information on schools, studios, residences, and memberships, as well as any association with the Museum School. William H. Gerdts’ three-volume Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710 - 1920, is a wonderful compendium of information on painters from around the country.

We frequently get requests for material on Hudson River School artists. The biographies in the 1987 Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue, American Paradise: the World of the Hudson River School are succinct and especially well written.

We often refer callers to the Fine Arts department of the Boston Public Library, whose librarians are among the most knowledgeable in the country. We usually suggest a visit to the library since their holdings include one of the most comprehensive art libraries in the United States. In addition to thousands of books and periodicals, the Fine Arts department has extensive Artist’s Clipping Files. These files contain numerous reproductions, news clippings, and articles filed by artist. You can search the library’s database online at www.bpl.org.

Another frequent referral is to the Archives of American Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The Archives has branches around the country; their collection is made up of primary source material on artists, museums, commercial galleries, and private collectors. An extremely large database for the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System is available online at http://www.siris.si.edu, from which you can search the Art inventories.

Another useful source for researchers is the Inventory of American Paintings Executed Before 1914. Begun in 1970, this national census of all the paintings in America is a database maintained by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This entire database can be accessed online at http://americanart.si.edu.

For scholars seeking more extensive knowledge on a lesser-known artist, Vose Galleries can sometimes provide further information, provided that the request is in writing, and only if the sources above have been exhausted.

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How Do We Price Older American Paintings?
Frequently Asked Questions: Part One

In answering this frequently asked question, we will describe in general terms what a dealer considers when setting a price. The task requires an expert eye and years of study, and we offer one caveat to our readers: all rules have exceptions! Our mission is to inspire further investigation. A dealer's first consideration is the popularity of the artist. The work must be thoroughly typical of the artist and be painted during his best period to bring the highest price.

Subject matter is another key determinant of price. European scenes by American painters, for example, generally bring far less than canvases depicting American scenes or subjects. Public taste plays the important role here, not necessarily the merits of the painting. Thus a contrarian buyer who eschews public taste in subject matter and buys what he or she likes may acquire a high-quality painting at a lesser price.

Quality is one of the most important factors in setting price, and the eye of a competent dealer, one who has seen the entire scope of an artist's work, is crucial in determining quality. We see many bargains advertised in the marketplace that are offered at prices well below the artist's average. Unfortunately these bargains rarely hold their value for the long term, and dealers who specialize in quality will refuse to handle them.

In contrast, an artist's masterpiece will bring a price many times higher than the artist's average. Time has shown that an artist's best canvases hold their value; it is also an extraordinary pleasure to gaze upon an artist's finest effort.

Size greatly affects price, again in disproportionate multiples. The ideal painting size, 24" X 36" (or similar), might fetch $100,000 while a 10" x 12" by the same artist might bring $12,000. Paintings that are "outsized", unless of museum quality, are slower to sell, but a contrarian buyer can acquire here a high-quality work for less than average.

Condition of a painting, whether it has been inpainted or over-cleaned ("skinned") is a major component of price. A severely over-cleaned painting, even by a top artist, can be nearly worthless. A dealer's responsibility is to thoroughly examine a work and describe its condition in detail to clients. Dealers who specialize in the finest paintings, however, simply will not handle works with major condition problems.

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