The Difference Between “Fine” Art and “Decorative” Art


When art lovers often think about restoring works of art, they imagine sitting in a dark room peering over a Rembrandt or Monet. Leaning on a ladder as they carefully touch up Michael Angelo’s in the Sistine Chapel. And for the most part, they would be right. In the past, Restoration artists and companies like www.trefler.com have made their passion restoring decades and centuries old art. In more recent years, restoration has also learned to meet the needs of modern fine art structures as well as decorative art structures. Pieces of work designed and created in our lifetime, but for whatever reason, have fallen against the tests of time. But why? What’s the difference and why is it so important for restoration artists and fans of fine or decorative art?

Michelangelo – Own work Antoine Taveneaux Taken on 14 June 2014 via wikimedia.com


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the use of fine art originally started in 1686.The term was used to describe any piece of work that was only meant to be appreciated, not used for any specific intent. This includes paintings, sculptures and even modern-day fine printed photographs. Decorative fine art, on the other hand, can be anything from the decorative ceramic pottery used for tea drinking or a finely carved grandfather clock.


However, every few decades the world of art adjusts to new styles as artists emerge and change the tide. Today the definition of fine art has grown to include modern sculptures put on display in front of the public. Often this includes outside displays and murals painted on the walls of local buildings such as the mural “Resonance” painted by Stefan “Super A” Thelen in Dewey Square, downtown Boston in early 2019.

So the definition of fine art is always changing, but there is one definition that must be clear: fine art is meant to be appreciated, but not used.


Photo curtsy of https://artoutdl.wordpress.com


Thanks to advances in recent technology, the path of restoring fine has grown by leaps and bounds. Archeologists can now restore buildings using the same exact materials previously used in the original build. Even bricks and stained glass. Restoration artists have similar tools. By mixing and aging paints together artists can restore a stained portrait from the 1800s with copies of materials so it holds even the same brush strokes and texture. This is the purpose of restoration: returning art and features to their original beauty. Now companies like www.trefler.com have been in the business of restoring both fine art and decorative art for years, making the process simple and easy.

For instance, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts worked to restore two different Rembrant paintings in 2018 in front of tourists visiting the attraction. Portrait of a Woman with a Gold Chain and Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat were some of Rembrant’s earliest pieces that helped lead to his success.The goal of the museum is to not only fix the marred scars left by wear and tear of 50 plus years of existence, but to attempt to mimic the exact technic Rembrant used, which weren’t always common or easy.

Left to right: Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat (detail), 1634. Oil on panel. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Ames, in the name of Frederick L. Ames; Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Woman Wearing a Gold Chain (detail), 1634. Oil on panel. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Ames, in the name of Frederick L. Ames. via mfa.org

The restoration artist will have to pay close attention to detail, focusing on even the most minor techniques Rembrant may have used to bring the portrait to the bright, clear colors of his original works. They even used tools like ultraviolet lights and microscopes to identify colors and objects previous restorations and time had distorted, making the restoration as accurate as possible.

Fine art restoration takes time and consideration. Materials and methods are chosen carefully, and the goal is always to restore as much of the original work as possible.


When restoring decorative art, artists have to use different techniques. The quest is no longer just to restore the delicate detail, but the quality of use. For instance, in 2015, The Park Street Church began restoration of its steeple, which towers in the skyline of Boston, MA, since 1809. Years of rough winter and time had worn the paint of the old steeple that had become a landmark to the Boston area. The job was a simple painting restoration. With time and raised funds, the church was able to carefully scrape away the old paint and restore the refreshed look of the steeple with new paint. At the same time, they also restore the clock face on the tower and repaired cracks and holes with similar historical materials originally used to create the piece.

Photo of Park Street Steeple courtesy of wikimedia.com


The difference between the Steeple and the Rembrant’s is simple, the Rembrant’s were carefully reconstructed to match their original details, down to the same brush strokes. The Steeple, while built with the same historical accuracy, was also built with duration in mind. It was restored with the idea of improving the longevity of its use, improving it for future generations to use. These two cross examples provide a look into the biggest defining factors of fine art and decorative art as we understand them today and have understood them through history.Though artist styles have changed, these two definitions have remained unchanged.

The restorations are completely different, though they might have similar ideas and techniques. This is why it’s important to know what kind of artwork you are looking to have restored and the goal of the job at the end of the day. fine art and decorative art serve two different purposes, and as time moves forward, change with the aging of technology. Being able to recognize the difference allows you to fully engage the restoration process and appreciate the artwork for what it is meant to be. Nowadays, companies like www.trefler.com, a local fine art restorative company in Boston, can make restoring your pieces simple by combining both restorative fine art and decorative art restoration among their services.

Whether your a craftsmen restoring old clocks or a restoration artist working on the world renowned modern and classic artwork, defining and separating the two types of work is the most important first step in the line to restoring a piece successfully. Modern and classical art has changed over the course of history, but the definition of fine art and decorative art have not. These standards will continue to be the guiding separator of how historians, researchers and restoration artist come to think of art that captivates its audience. Because of this, companies such as Trefler will always be around to assist in preserving art whether it is for use or for pleasure.

Get in touch & get a price quote

Submit your request and someone from the Trefler’s team will contact you.

close Created with Sketch.

Get access to deals, promotions, restoration tips, and exclusive event invites through our newsletter, The Trefler Tribune.