Painting Conservation: the CSI of the Museum World

Welcome to the new Conservation blog. I am hoping to be able to give you a little insight into what is happening behind the scenes in the conservation studio.

Usually when I introduce myself to people and tell them I’m a conservator, people often say “that must be nice working with nature”. Then I have to explain that no, I am usually in my basement with rubber gloves, a gas mask and a magnifying light working on the care of the TWAM paintings.

My job can involve many things. I am basically a paintings doctor. I give paintings health checks before they go in display. I carry out face lifts on them to make them look better and reduce the ravages of age. Sometimes, I have to carry out open heart surgery when there is something seriously wrong (yes they do occasionally look like they’ve been in a car crash!) And lastly I try to make sure they live a healthy life in an environment that will help them to remain in good condition.

The best bit of my job is that when I examine paintings I get clues as to the history of the paintings and what has happened to them. I can tell how old they are by the type of materials used. I can piece together what has happened to them during their life by looking at the different damage that has occurred. Sometimes I find some of the artists’ hair caught in the paint, or one time I was working on a painting of a beach and kept finding bits of sand on the surface of the painting from it being painted in situ. Of course I find a lot of dead insects as well- yuk! We use a lot of science to identify what paintings are made of so we can treat them correctly.

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