Restoring Egg Tempera
I inherited an egg tempera painting by Robert Vickrey from my grandparents but it seems like there is a foggy substance on the surface of the painting. Is that something I can have repaired and should I be concerned about it effecting the painting's value?
The American master Robert Vickrey (1926-2011) was the leading egg tempera painter for the last half of the 20th century, an opinion held by the New York Times art critic John Canaday in the early 1970s. While the egg tempera medium is quite difficult to master, Vickrey wrote two books about the technique which have been used by hundreds of artists attempting to learn the century's old medium.
As far as the foggy substance occurring on the surface of the painting: that will not harm the painting and is easily removed. It is a non-abrasive, non-affecting mold which grows on the surface of 5% of the artist’s paintings. This phenomenon is likely the result of the painting being hung or stored in a place with higher humidity and temperature. This is another reason to keep art work in an air conditioned, temperature controlled environment.
The mold can often be gently wiped away with a soft cloth or cotton balls. The only way to stop this mold from re-growing on the surface is to varnish the painting with a matte varnish to preserve the flat look of Vickrey’s paintings. However, since egg tempera paintings take two years to cure completely he seldom had paintings unsold long enough to wait the two years to varnish them himself.
Fortunately there is an expert painting conservator in Naples, Thomas Wagner, who Vickrey himself used to repair damage to his paintings while he was alive. Wagner inherited the artist’s paint pigments and learned the technique from the master himself. So on the rare occasion someone contacts us about a cotton candy growth appearing on an egg tempera painting, we tell the person to contact Tom Wagner to clean the surface and to apply a new coat of varnish.
We sometimes see paintings with this condition show up at national art auctions and unfortunately for the seller it often results in lower prices being realized because potential collectors are scared to bid on what they perceive is a damaged work of art. Knowledgeable collectors can sometimes "pick up a bargain" and then simply have the painting cleaned and varnished later.
Hope this clears things up!