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Dating picture frames

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A sort of reverence in the art world stops us from doing this, but what lies beneath is important.

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Then there are the ‘improvers’ who have added to, and amended, original works.Imagine that, or the whites of the eyes, as the same I’ve seen a Gainsborough that had hung for years in a room often full of cigar smoke. I’ve seen a significant portrait in a major English public school that has been used for target practice and obscured with dried mashed potato and gravy. I can confidently say that virtually every old work in every major gallery in the world has had some paint added to it, even if only at its edges.Later generations may not have liked a double chin, a very large nose or naked private parts.I’ve exposed a considerable amount of genitalia in my time.The main trick for spotting overpainting is to look at the cracks that occur naturally in oil paint over time.The resultant fine mosaic of cracks is called ‘craquelure’.

What you are trying to spot is where the cracks disappear. There is one tip I always give to those interested in knowing more about paintings: look at the back of them.

This was the original version of the picture of Nell.

Removing layer after layer of discoloured varnish is the main way seemingly valueless works can be deemed historic finds.

In centuries past, there were clumsy attempts to remove dirt.

The Irish used potatoes, the English urine mixed with ashes and lavender oil.

A way to test how an old painting might once have looked is to hold a white piece of paper next to it.