Ask an Instructor: How Bronze Disease Affects the Value of Art
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Ask an Instructor
ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Does Bronze Disease affect the value of a work? From what I was reading, it seems to be a contamination problem with the bronze. Would the artist in any way be responsible for selling work that develops bronze disease? Put another way, if I bought a new house and in ten years it started to fall down due to material flaws and contamination, I would go back to the builder and ask what's up? Would this be the same case for a piece of bronze that develops Bronze Disease?
Answer: Does Bronze Disease affect the value of a work? - YES! It eats the work from within! And it is also contagious! Don’t worry – it’s contagious only for other bronze works, not humans. The artist actually may not be responsible for selling a work that develops bronze disease. A work can have an inherent vice, where the artist uses fugitive materials that are prone to premature deterioration (think of artists using plastics in the 1940s that have since evaporated or exploded). If the cause for damage was deemed an inherent vice, then the artist would hold the responsibility to the owner.
Bronze disease is largely seen in much older items, so a modern piece could just have simple corrosion rather than the more ominous bronze disease. Bronze disease is very serious, and ancient bronze sculptures and coins can be highly susceptible. For high-end work, I'd advise seeing a conservator to determine if it can be remedied. Bronze disease can occasionally be irreversible.
By, Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP, Director of Education