Art Conservation and restoration dates back as early as the 16th century when Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes were first restored due to water damage. The terms conservation and restoration are often used in conjunction but they do differ somewhat when we start to pin an exact definition to them and explore the underlying differences in their education and approach.
Anna Marzemin, our own in-house painting conservator, explains.
“The conservator’s number one aim is to acknowledge the intention of the artist and ensure that the intention is preserved while safe-guarding the piece against any future deterioration. A restorer focuses on returning a painting to its original form by whatever means necessary which can often lead to changes in the original piece.”
Another difference is the education. A conservator will specialize in one category such as painting and will not be able to treat books or vice versa. Their training will include internships, fellowships at museums or studios and often the conservator will hold a Master’s degree after training in an accredited graduate programme. A restorer will often learn through an artist or learn through experience.
There is no individual recipe or rule-book to follow when conserving a piece of art as each piece is different and requires varied techniques and processes. However, some of the steps involved are briefly outlined below:
Analysis: A conservator will note the style and period of the painting in order to familiarize themselves with the painting techniques and materials used within that time.
Paint Loss and varnish removal: Advances in technology have led to infrared imaging being used to identify how much paint loss there has been underneath the surface of a painting. Appropriate solvent mixtures are used to remove discolored varnish layers.
Repairing: Once the older varnish is removed, the painting can be repaired. This involves separating the older version of paint from the newer paint with a layer of varnish and then by using dry pigment mixed with certain solvents to ensure future restorations can occur with no further damage to the original layers. When imitating the painting techniques, things like brush strokes, texture and craquelure must be kept in mind by the conservator. Thus a thorough knowledge of the painter and time period of the piece is essential.
One of the main reasons for art conservation is to preserve a piece’s value. If done correctly, a painting’s value is unlikely to decrease.