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Painting Conservation

detail: Albert Tucker, 'Martin Smith' 1946, oil on composition board, Collection of the National GalleryAlbert Tucker, 'Martin Smith' (detail) 1946, oil on composition board, Collection of the National Gallery more detail

Paintings Conservators at the National Gallery of Australia are responsible for ensuring that paintings and frames held in the International and the Australian Art Collections are kept in a stable condition and remain accessible for display. Conservation treatments carried out in the paintings laboratory fall into the following categories: stabilisation, repair, cleaning and restoration.  Major treatments can include all four activities.

Stabilisation and repair involve treatments which allow a painting to be safely handled and moved or which facilitate further conservation treatment.  Consolidation of lifting cracks or flaking paint, tear repairs, lining and edge lining may be executed as discrete treatments or as a preliminary to cleaning and/or restoration. Correct stretching is crucial to the longevity of paintings on stretched canvas and in the day to day work of the paintings conservation section, many treatments involve structural issues concerning the support offered by stretcher or strainer to a canvas.

Cleaning procedures include surface cleaning, which removes dust, dirt and accreted material from the paint surface using a variety of dry and wet methods, as well as varnish removal.  The removal of old varnish can often reveal fresh, bright colour which has been hidden for years under a discoloured or damaged surface coating. Restoration processes include infilling sites of paint losses and retouching the filled areas to restore pictorial coherence. Scientific analysis is often undertaken to identify materials to be treated and to illuminate artist technique.

Conservators also offer advice on packing and transport for many of the paintings which travel to other institutions for exhibition. For example, in 1998, Blue Poles was treated for travel to New York and London for the Jackson Pollock retrospective.

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X-RAYS: electromagnetic radiation of short wavelength able to pass through opaque bodies

preventative conservation
Why paintings deteriorate