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What Can Conservators Do?

Trained art conservators have the skills to choose and implement appropriate treatments to help prolong the life of aged or damaged artworks.

This first begins with a thorough assessment of every artwork during and throughout every step of treatment formulation and application.

As the materials that make up paintings age, they will naturally begin to breakdown from exposure to sunlight, heat, moisture, and environmental pollutants, physical damage and even poor framing practices. This degradation of materials often results in visible alteration and disruption of the paint film and layers. A painted image may appear distorted, loose, or bulging in areas due to the distressed and degraded condition of the canvas support and stretcher frame in its aged or damaged state.

Aged varnishes and coatings crack, darken and/or yellow. The paint surface may appear faded, powdery, hazy, or even whitish. Having hardened with age, a rigid paint layer often begins to display patterns of cracking throughout that further distort the image through how it reflects the light. Cracked paint layers may also begin to ‘cup’ as the edges as paint flakes lift up off the surface and curl.  The extent of cracking and lift may also completely penetrate through to expose the canvas, possibly resulting in complete paint loss.

These effects severely distort the painted image making it difficult to read and all materials involved more susceptible to further damage, such as fracturing or tearing of the canvas weave.

Proper conservation of paintings therefore does not simply rely on a professional’s adept practical skills but also on their sensitivity to the artwork.

The trained conservator employs a caring hand and touch towards each individual artwork. They research historical context, proceed through accordance to a code of ethics in conservation standards of practice, and apply materials and methods through a solid understanding of the chemistry involved.

Using these guidelines, the materials, method, and application of treatments can best be chosen and implemented to safely and effectively preserve, conserve, and restore unstable or fragile paintings.