HOME Areas of Expertise What We Do Contact Us

Fine Art Claims –
The role of the Art Consultant

By Steven A. Leon, President
Art Conservation Associates, Inc.

Reprinted from the Weekly Underwriter and the Adjuster’s Reference Guide

Part I: Transportation Claims
Fine arts and antiques are a big business and like many other big businesses the merchandise is bought, sold, insured, and transported from one market to another on a daily basis. When mishandling occurs and damage takes place "the claims process" begins.
Works of art are often insured for values of $5,000 or more. When damages in this category occur, the adjuster, surveyor or claims executive should consider contacting an art consultant to discuss how to minimize the loss.
A telephone call to the consultant will usually allow him to decide whether or not his services are needed.
If the consultant is called in, he will usually provide the following information to the claims executive:

  1. Is the insured value reasonable?
  2. Did the artwork suffer any previous damages or restorations?
  3. If there were previous damages, by what percentage did the value of the piece depreciate?
  4. Can the new damage be restored?
  5. How much will the restoration treatment cost?
  6. Will there be any depreciation due to the new damage?

If the claim has to be paid in full, what will the approximate salvage value be?

In a typical case, a claims executive contacted an art consultant explaining that a sculpture by Pablo Picasso insured for $38,000 was shipped from Germany to New York and arrived at the art gallery in a damaged condition. After his examination, the consultant submitted the following report to the claims executive.
ARTIST: Pablo Picasso
TITLE: Grazing Goat
MEDIUM: Glazed ceramic.
SIZE: Height 26", Length 16", Width 7".
DATE: 1960
ORIGINAL CONDITION: The previous damages to the sculpture before shipment, were as follows:
--The right front leg was broken at the knee joint and restored.
--There are two chips, each measuring approximately 1/2" in diameter, missing from the goat's tail
NEW DAMAGE: The right ear, measuring 3" long by 1 1/4" wide, was broken off. The break is clean, but there are small missing chips along the break line.
RECOMMENDED TREATMENT: Pin and mend the broken ear, fill in the  missing chips, and retouch.
FEE FOR TREATMENT: $500.00 (sales tax and transportation costs are not included)
Appraised Fair Market Value: Before shipment, the value of the previously damaged sculpture was $38,000. If the sculpture had been shipped in a "pristine condition," an insured value of $60,000 would have been accurate.
Depreciation Due to Damage: If the ear of Picasso's "Grazing Goat" had been the first and only damage to the sculpture, a depreciation figure of 20% would have been justifiable. However, since the sculpture had been previously damaged and restored, a figure of 10% is appropriate.

Part II: Damage Caused by Fire and Smoke
Everyone knows that a painting can be "burnt out of sight," but often a number of more subtle damaging effects take place that are not quite so obvious. Paintings can be mildly or seriously affected by fire and its by-products, depending upon the intensity, proximity, and duration of exposure to the blaze.
Every oil painting has a particular anatomy, consisting of a support (usually a canvas), a gesso ground which serves as the painting surface, a layer of oil paint, and a varnish layer which, in addition to its artistic function, serves as a protective coating.
When an oil painting is exposed to extremes in temperature, each particular layer expands or contracts according to its own physical characteristics. The canvas dries out, causing brittleness and loss of adhesion; the gesso layer loses moisture; and the paint layer dries, causing cracking patterns, changes in pigment color, and loss of brilliancy. Finally, heat can cause the varnish layer to yellow prematurely.
Soot or carbonous materials from a fire contaminate everything with which they come into contact. These particles adhere to both the underside of the canvas and the varnish layer of the painting.
As long as these particles remain undisturbed on the painting's surface, and there is no attempt to clean them off in a casual fashion (which can cause them to become embedded), they can be successfully removed by a professional, with little or no permanent damage.
In 1980, a fire broke out on the 27th floor of a 40-story office building. The blaze was eventually brought under control, but only after considerable fire and smoke damage was sustained. Art Conservation Associates, Inc. was called in by the adjusting firm to remove and restore one damaged oil painting from floor 27, and one from floor 28. We submitted the following preliminary report:
A. Floor 27: West Wing
ARTIST: Jon Von Buren
TITLE: Landscape
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas.
SIZE: 16 x 19 inches
DATE: 19th century
CONDITION OF THE PAINTING: The heat from the fire caused the painting to severely cup and blister, and yellowed the varnish layer. There were also areas of paint loss.
RECOMMENDED TREATMENT: Remove the painting from its stretcher, consolidate the damaged surface by firming and flattening the cupped and blistered areas. Reline and stretch on a new stretcher, clean, reconstruct the damaged areas where necessary, retouch and varnish.
B. Floor 28: East Wing
ARTIST: John Morris
TITLE: "Abstract Landing"
MEDIUM: Oil on Canvas
SIZE: 3' X 4'
DATE: 1970
CONDITION OF THE PAINTING: There was a coating of soot covering both the front and the back side of the canvas.
RECOMMENDED TREATMENT: Clean the surface of the painting and remove the varnish layer. Revarnish the painting. Clean the soot and dirt from the back side of the painting.

Part III: Problems Presented By Water Damage: Prints
In order to meet the increasing demand for works of art, from collectors and investors alike, artists have turned to the age-old process of printmaking to increase their production.
The print enables the artist to create an image that can be mechanically reproduced hundreds of times. When a printing takes place, each of the prints in an edition of 200 for example, will usually be assigned the same dollar value. Over a period of time, some of the prints may become torn, stained, or discolored, while others may remain as good as new.
The condition of the print, in relation to others from the same edition, will be a primary factor in determining its resale value.
Dealers that specialize in selling prints stock hundreds and often thousands of prints. When water damage occurs, whether the cause be a pipe burst or an overflowing sink from an apartment above, the same basic first aid measures should be taken to minimize the loss.
Framed prints that have been exposed to water are locked in a high humidity atmosphere, and should be removed from their frames as soon as possible to prevent the framing materials from bleeding, which can stain the print; molds from forming, causing irreversible damage to the areas where they have been feeding; and finally, to prevent the print from sticking to the framing materials while drying.
Once a print is removed from its frame, the print should be placed between two sheets of colorless paper over which a board is placed and weighted to avoid serious deformation of the paper. This particular technique is better performed or supervised by an experienced conservator.


Extremes in temperature caused a pipe to burst in an uptown print gallery. The adjuster in charge requested the immediate participation of a conservator. When the adjuster and the conservator arrived, the gallery was without electricity, and the water level required rubbers to be worn to protect one's shoes. The adjuster correctly suggested that the rug be removed immediately, and as many as possible of the more valuable items, be stored at a nearby location.
The conservator arrived the next morning to find the carpet removed and the electricity back to normal. The conservator, with the help of two assistants, removed over five hundred prints from the area of high humidity, and each was systematically sandwiched between absorbent sheets of paper. A number of the more valuable prints, still extremely damp from the water damage, were taken to a lab for emergency conservation.
More than five hundred prints were immediately treated, and of these, approximately seventy-five percent suffered little or no permanent damage. The remaining twenty-five percent were treated more fully. However, the amount of conservation work required was greatly reduced because of the initial correct use of "first aid."