An Approach To Paintings Conservation

Julia Nagle Conservation Limited is a dedicated group specialising in the conservation and restoration of modern and contemporary art. Julia set up her own company after working at Tate Modern and Cambridge University’s Hamilton Kerr Institute, an internationally renowned conservation studio and leading training course for conservators. Julia here shares her top tips for protecting your artworks.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Just like regular trips to the doctor and general awareness of your health, there is a lot you can do to protect your artwork. Accidental damage is the most frequent cause of art insurance claims so thinking in advance about storage, handling, transit and other preventive techniques can make an enormous difference.

Preventive measures can be inexpensive and completely reversible such as lightweight backboards with insert panels to sit behind paintings on canvas, which will provide some rigidity to large canvases and insulate and protect the work from physical knocks as well as preventing cracks developing over time. The cracks pictured below cannot be removed but the damage could have been avoided with a backboard for protection.

We receive many contemporary works, mostly because of poor handling and packing, in particular fingermarks, tears, cracks and wrapping stuck to the surface as in the image below – a close up of bubble wrap marks in the varnish. Using trusted packers, shippers and handlers can save money down the line as risk of accident is so much lower. AXA ART are always happy to recommend suitable specialists.

Here at Julia Nagle, we are especially concerned with preventive conservation on contemporary and modern works as they are new and in good condition, so these measures can maintain this for future generations. Preventive measures for paintings that are around 100 years old are also useful as they can prevent the need for lining canvases, something which can negatively affect the value of the work as buyers prefer works in as original condition as possible. We chose to be conservators because we love art, so we want to do all we can to preserve it in the way the artist intended.

Invest in a Condition Report

My best advice is to always invest a few hundred pounds in a condition report from an independent conservator before you buy a piece – at auction, reports are not necessarily done for the buyer! The condition report need not only describe the current condition but it can also give a prognosis for the artwork, recommend remedial work and include likely costs of maintenance, transport and display. This can be invaluable for buyers abroad as the report can also include digital images.

Climate is another thing to keep in mind when thinking about protecting your artworks. Hot and humid environments will promote more mould growth and very polluted areas may mean the pieces require more regular cleaning.

Conservation Ethics

Conservators work to the principles of minimal intervention and use reversible materials wherever possible. The aim is to ensure that the work we do does not permanently alter the artwork, in case our restoration needs to be removed at a later date. For example when retouching losses in oil paintings we might use egg tempera, watercolour, or a synthetic resin that we know can be taken off in future without affecting the original oil. All stages of any treatment are documented in photographs and a written report, and all the materials used are itemized. Where appropriate we make up our own adhesives and paints using pigments and ingredients that we know to be stable and reversible long-term.

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