Valentine Walsh Conservation, London

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updated on 20/06/2020


It is a sad fact that almost everything ages right from the moment it was created. Paintings do, however, age at different rates depending on the way they are constructed and with what materials, and then on the way that they are looked after. Paint layers may dry and become brittle, eventually cracking; the oil itself can darken and varnish yellow; the pigments can alter in colour; oil paint becomes more transparent and underneath drawings may show through; the canvas may become brittle or weak, or slack; and the painting may become coated with a layer of dirt, nicotine, finger marks etc. Not all the effects of ageing necessarily impair our aesthetic enjoyment of the work of art, and while the pristine look of a painting as it may have left the artist’s studio is often the stated aim of a conservator or restorer, it will be better for paintings in the long term if we learn to live with some of the results of time acting on them. Nevertheless there comes a time when paintings do need to be “restored”.
The ravages of time may cause the painting to be unstable; it may suffer accidental damage; it may have been badly or insensitively restored in the past; or the dirt and yellowed varnish may just be too disturbing to enjoy the painting any longer. The owner of a painting can delay the moment when a conservator or restorer is needed and can help to slow the effects of time with good stewardship. I am presenting here a series of articles which will, I hope, help the collector to understand the work of the conservator, what he can and cannot do; what techniques he has at his disposal to analyse, repair, clean and restore a painting; how he can help to advise on the proper maintenance of a painting and on the provision of environmental protection even within a collector’s home. I will also explain how a painting is constructed and how and why paintings may become damaged.
Most conservation treatments will involve cleaning before the conservator can treat any damages. Due …

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