Art restoration is more than a dirty business; it is a competitive and a secretive sort of profession. In one way, an art restorer is like a detective, constantly probing and seeking to find a work’s true identity.
Recently, for example, conservators at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art removed layers of varnish and repainting from a 1624 portrait of King Philip IV of Spain to reveal the original artist—Velazquez himself—and not the work of an assistant working in the master’s workshop as previously thought.
Primrose says he sometimes feels like he is in an operating room. “Restoration is like surgery in a way. It is delicate—you need a steady hand and good eye-hand coordination. It takes forethought, too,” says the conservator through the mask he wears to filter out fumes from toxic solvent. “In repairing a picture, you have to know what is the likely outcome and be able to respond quickly if something is not right.”
Art restoration and conservation is intricate work. Born in the United Kingdom, Primrose worked in London for 18 years, exclusively for major art dealers. This fastidious craftsman says he finds his profession of “preserving and arresting decay” endlessly fascinating, a passion planted during his adolescent years.
His schoolmate’s father was a picture restorer as was the entire family who restored one thing or another. All these objects d’art, carvings, and sculptures made an indelible impression on Primrose’s 10-year-old imagination. “It was a magical place, like being in Aladdin’s Cave,” he remembers. A visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid with his parents at age 11 forever instilled an appreciation for art.