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Why is Conservation in Art Important

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  • paint restorations, iol paint, acrylic, gouache, Pastels
  • Posted date:
  • 02-08-2021
Why is Conservation in Art Important

Why is conservation in art important? We look at why conservation in art is important. This article shows the methods used to preserve and conserve artworks.

What is Art Conservation and Restoration?

Art conservation and restoration are typically performed on artworks that have been adversely damaged or affected by negligence, erosion or decay. 

This key practice consists of any attempt to conserve and repair historical projects such as paintings, drawings, architecture, prints, sculptures, and any decorative arts like textiles, furniture, glassware, ceramics, etc. 

For works of art, conservation is maintenance, preservation and protection from future possible damage and deterioration to the article. On the other hand, art restoration is the attempted restoration, repair and renovation of historical artwork that has previously sustained injury or decay to as close to its original state as possible.

Art conservation and restoration methods and techniques have become increasingly important work aspects of museums, civic authorities, and those in the world concerned with artworks, such as artists, collectors, or frequent gallerygoers. 

With science and technology advancing considerably as history has progressed and the development of art conservation as a profession in the 20th century, knowledge of safer and more effective approaches to repairing, studying and preserving the life of historical projects have internationally emerged. 

Modern conservation practice will typically adhere to the importance of the principle of reversibility, dictating that treatments should never cause permanent alteration to the objects. 

Art conservation has become an essential research tool, and documenting treatments with written reports and photographs is a standard practice among professional conservators.

Why is conservation in art important?

Restoration vs Preservation

The words restoration and preservation are sometimes used interchangeably. Whilst closely related in context; there is a significant difference between preservation and restoration practises as they each have their own specific purposes and appropriate times for application.

Restoration involves determining exactly how an artefact would have appeared in its original state and, using treatment measures, attempting to recreate the look precisely to how it would have been created initially. This process could involve various things, for example, removing paint layers, adding materials or replacing parts. 

Preservation, however, involves taking preventive measures to preserve the artwork in its current state. This will include treatments on the article to reduce deterioration and protect the projects present condition.

Painting Mediums and Preventive Conservation  

Acrylic Paintings

Introduced in the 1950s, acrylic paintings are artworks that require substantial preventive care to preserve their form. 

The paint itself is very soft, easily attracting and holding dirt and debris. This creates difficulty when cleaning and causes the colours to darken over time. Due to the acrylic paint's characteristics, varnish can diminish the top layers of paint and affect the vibrancy of the colours. 

Acrylic paintings should be stored in a clean, dust-free environment and kept below room temperature to reduce further softening of the paint. Exposing acrylic paintings to temperatures that are too cold will see damaging cracking. 

Acrylic paint is incredibly susceptible to mould growth, a significant concern for artists and conservators as mould removal can cause damage to the painting. 

Preventive care is typically the best method of conservation when it comes to acrylic paintings. However, after more than ten years of investigation, conservators now better understand the risks of swelling, extraction, and gloss changes associated with surface cleaning treatments. 

Wet cleaning systems are currently in development that will help minimize risks associated with acrylic paint cleaning.

Blacklight or Fluorescent/Luminous Paintings art conservation

Blacklight or Fluorescent/Luminous Paintings

Blacklight or luminous paints are usually created with fluorescent dyes. Fluorescent dyes are not standard dyes; they are made up of pigments suspended in a carrier or resin. 

This pigment emanates a glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. The energy released from the pigment causes the glow. The brightening agent used in the paint is unstable, making the paint challenging for conservators to care for. It can rapidly decline, darkening over time and decreasing fluorescence and intensity. 

Some fluorescent arts should only be displayed in museums with a dark environment using UV lights, making exhibiting and storing them difficult. It's highly recommended to have an automatic lighting system when displaying a fluorescent painting in a dark room. 

Art conservationists must determine the pigments' age to develop a close matching pigment for retouching when conserving a fluorescent painting. A painting can lose its effect under UV light if the retouches and fillings are not similarly matched.  

Egg Tempera

Egg Tempera is made of egg yolk, water, and pigment mixed to create a thick paste that dries quickly but can take up to a year to cure completely. 

Egg Tempera's rapid drying property makes it difficult to correct or revise. Due to the unstable and fugitive pigments in tempera paintings, it is difficult to preserve as changes in the work can be expected. 

Tempera works of art can easily develop visible cracks over time and flaking due to air bubbles. Although tempera paintings are typically more resistant to cleaning materials, they can be susceptible to abrasions from routine dusting, washing, and old varnish layer removal.

 It is unknown exactly how they originally varnished tempera paintings in history due to the need for sensitive analysis methods. Modern tempera paintings are almost always unvarnished and severely prone to mould growth.


Like most painting mediums, enamel is highly susceptible to damage from improper handling and environmental stress. Suppose a painting is subjected to several museum moves, likely having been rolled and unrolled several times; this may take a toll on its condition. 

The paint could flake, and the original stretcher could weaken, causing the painting a noticeable sag. Enamel paintings can also endure canvas yellowing due to strong museum display lights. 

Conservation treatments can involve adhering a lining to the canvas with wax-resin to the reverse side, replacing the original stretcher, and varnishing. To even out a works colouring, they can use solvents to remove a thin layer of the canvas.


Whilst considered very durable, the waxes used in encaustic paints can melt or soften when exposed to higher temperatures. 

This can cause the upper layers of the painting to slide or detach, causing irreversible damage. It is imperative to control the light, temperature, and humidity levels to prevent this type of damage. Surface cleaning on encaustic paintings can sufficiently be carried out with distilled water and swabs. 

For more challenging cleanings, art conservationists can use beeswax and carbon tetrachloride solutions. Identifying the different waxes used to determine the appropriate treatments is a considerable challenge when working with encaustic paintings. Infra-red photography and gas chromatography are two mediums used to identify the various wax types.


Like many cultural heritage works, specific climate parameters are needed for damage preservation. 

Museums and institutes with frescos should ideally have modern central air with humidity adjusting features to keep the environment cool and dry with low humidity for the best interest of the paintings. 

Frescos are artworks typically found in old churches, temples and tombs, and the environmental pollutants can cause distinct deterioration. The layers can significantly deteriorate from the chemical compositions reacting to pollutants or environmental conditions like humidity, temperature, light, and pH. 

Frescos can be repaired by detaching sections, and surface repairs are generally less invasive. With injections of epoxy resin containing micronized silica and lime putty, conservators can easily repair cracks and minor detachments in the projects.

Frescos art conservation


Lacquer is a rigid material, and with fluctuating temperatures and humidity, can be susceptible to cracks and loose joints, so maintaining proper environmental conditions is essential to prevent possible future damage. 

Extended exposure to light may cause the lacquer to lose durability, and overexposure can cause discolouration and loss of lustre. Avoiding any exposure to unfiltered daylight and fluorescent lamps will prevent this kind of damage. 

To prevent condensation that can shrink and swell the wood, temperatures should be kept as low and consistent as possible.  Treatments to lacquer paintings can include consolidation and repair work before or after cleaning to repair cupping and flaking.

Oil paintings art conservation

Oil paintings

For the preservation of oil painting artworks, preventative care is essential. 

Excessive light and heat can cause pigment fading, so climate and lighting controls are necessary when storing. Moisture can cause the wooden stretcher behind a canvas oil painting to expand, causing possible canvas buckling and cracking, flaking, or shattering of the paint. 

Moisture and water damage can cause an array of issues depending on materials, for example, mould, rot, rusting, and warping of wooden supports, so in case of flooding, paintings should be stored off the ground. 

Treatment methods can include re-joining wooden panels, mending fabric, consolidating paint flakes, cleaning old and yellowing varnish and re-varnishing the painting.


Art media created on paper should ideally be stored in a cool, dry place with minimal light exposure. Pastel artworks should be matted and framed under ultraviolet filtered acrylic sheeting. Using a glaze over the surface will help protect the oil pastel from damage. -

Shorter exhibition times and low light intensity are recommended as excessive light can cause pigment fading and paper discolouration.  Preventive conservation is vital as some damage to works of art on paper is irreversible. 

Art conservationists can use restoration methods to treat damages like structural tension in the paper created by previous restoration treatments. Procedures may include removal of the secondary and adhering new support or internal cardboard support.

Watercolour and Gouache

Low light conditions and well-maintained temperature and humidity levels can prevent damage to Watercolour and Gouache paintings. 

Similar to pastel artworks, these paintings should be framed and mounted. Mould growth can cause disfiguring brown spots, cardboard supports can cause paper discolouration and brittleness, and adhesive tapes can cause staining. 

To remove discolouration from watercolour works, some treatments include a washing treatment. Stains can also be treated with solvents. Tears can often be repaired with wheat starch paste or methylcellulose, and attaching a lining can strengthen the weakened paper.

Scroll and screen Paintings

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can leave these paintings vulnerable to damage. Fading of silk and pigments and darkening of paper can occur with extended light exposure. 

Films and glazes that filter ultraviolet light help prevent UV radiation damage. Repeated rolling and unrolling of a scroll painting can cause creases and abrasions, and uneven tension between the back and front side panels can distort the screens. 

 There are extensive variations in technique and materials among the history of Asian scroll and screen paintings, so conservation treatments require significant research. Some art conservation treatments include remounting, consolidation of pigments, removal of old backings, and retouching. 

In-painting and retouching materials for scrolls and screens are irreversible and should only be performed on losses or fills. In-painted areas may darken due to losses with a heavy concentration of animal gelatin/alum.

Scroll and screen Paintings art conservation

Are you looking for oil painting restoration in London? Alyson Lawrence provides oil painting restoration throughout London and the surrounding areas. 

We hope this page has provided some valuable information about the process of restoring a painting. To discuss your restoration project follow the link below.

As a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen and over 30 years experience restoring fine art paintings, your beloved paintings are in good hands. If you need help restoring oil painting, contact Alyson today to discuss your project.