Overpainting

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Overpainting refers to paint that was not applied by the artist being added to cover over the original paint or surface. Overpainting is not the same as inpainting, which does not cover original paint, but instead covers areas of loss (AAT 2014). Overpainting is the term used when the technique is carried out by a conservator, but if the process is done by a non-professional it is called retouching. (AAT 2014).

Ecce Homo, Before and After. An infamous failed attempt at retouching carried out by a non-professional.

Related Terms

Synonyms in English

inpainting, repainting, retouching

Translation

English Overpainting
French Repeintes
Spanish Repintado
Portuguese
Italian Ridipintura
German Übermalung
Russian Окрашивание
Arabic

Discussion

There is much discussion around overpainting and whether or not it is a sound conservation treatment. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute states, “its presence often indicates an excessive alteration of the image. Over painting is not an acceptable conservation technique” (MCI). The Canadian Conservation Institute says it is, “often an excessive and unnecessary alteration to the image” (CCI 1994). Overpainting may cause damage to an object, especially in cases of poor or excessive application. In the past, retouching may have also been done by a non-professional, such as a collector, drastically altering the original image. It could also be that an unskilled restorer, while inpainting, has painted over original paint (Fine Arts Conservancy 2014). In many cases keeping the overpaint is undesirable, as it covers the artist's original intent and overpaint is sometimes removed through treatment. Consideration should be taken whether to remove the overpaint. X-rays may be used to determine the presence of overpaint. Repainting over old overpaint may be an appropriate use of paint in modern restoration treatment. This practice is more common in architectural conservation, when conservators want to re-create an original look but cannot remove the overpaint (MFA 2011). Overpainting may also be used to hides stains and discolorations not treatable by other methods and when it is “the only way to achieve visual improvements” (Smith 1998).

References

Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online (AAT), Getty Research Institute. 2004. Overpainting (Technique). Accessed March 21, 2015. http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/aat/

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). 1994. Condition Reporting - Paintings. Part III: Glossary of Terms - CCI Notes 10/11. Accessed March 21, 2015. https://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/resources-ressources/ccinotesicc/10-11-eng.aspx

Fine Arts Conservancy. 2014. Glossary For Paintings. Accessed March 21, 2015. http://www.art-conservation.org/?page_id=1170

Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), Smithsonian Institution. Painting Conservation Glossary of Terms. Taking Care. Accessed 20 March, 2015. http://www.si.edu/MCI/english/learn_more/taking_care/painting_glossary.html

Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston. 2011. MFA Highlights: Conservation and Care of Museum Collections. Boston MA: MFA Publications.

Smith, Christine. 1998. "Inpainting/Overpainting Paper Art: Using Mixed Dry Pigments and Complementary Colors". Vol. 17 of The Book and Paper Group Annual, AIC. Accessed March 21, 2015. http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v17/bp17-15.html

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