You never really know what you will find when you start on restoration of an antique. Experience helps but its nevertheless often times more art then process. Since some customers, particularly those in the know, prefer to select antique pieces in un-restored form, which while exciting and educating, can present some tricky problems for the restorer, especially if what the customer is after is the color of the piece. So where does the problem lay? Well… what you are seeing is not color. That beautiful patina on the un-restored piece is actually dirt and grime built up over the years, as opposed to actual color. Like that rustic “limed finish look” on that un-restored antique table? Then know that its actually just gray dust and after restoration we will need to somehow recreate that effect. For the restorer, the challenge is to remove dirt and build up while retaining the patina. Other times though, this is all part of the fascinating and revealing process with at times, very pleasant surprises.
Take this antique sideboard from the Shanxi – Shandong region in northern China. Though a fairly common sideboard, the eight painted figures were remarkably well preserved and this alone makes this piece worthy of a purchase decision. The image above was taken at the time of purchase.
Note that this sort of sideboard would open across the top front in three half depth panels which lift up. Many of these antique Chinese sideboards seen on the market today have been in fact been modified for contemporary use and the doors are rarely original. In this case, the customer (wisely) choose to retain its original form and opted out for such modifications, which would have detracted from the value of such a wonderful cabinet. The next step is careful cleaning to remove the years of use in the countryside and in this case the results were better then expected.
Five of the size figures depicted separately on each panel are carrying swords. Before cleaning this was barely visible, so much that I neglected to even notice this and it was not apparent until after each panel was cleaned. I was also surprised to see vibrant red, blue and green hues spring forth in brilliant color, the kind often seen in antiques as most chinese antique reproductions today use commercially available synthetic colors which lack the richness the ones used in times past.
The next question: who are these figures, what do they symbolize and what story do they depict?
You tell me?