Introduction | Essay | Paintings | Paper | Preventive | Textiles | AICCM conference papers 2008

Preventive Conservation

image: detail: Joachim Froese, 'Rhopography #15' 2000 tryptch, gelatin silver photographs, Collection of the National GalleryJoachim Froese, Rhopography #15 (detail) 2000 tryptch, gelatin silver photographs, Collection of the National Gallery click to enlarge


Preventive conservation aims to minimise deterioration and damage to works of art, therefore avoiding the need for invasive conservation treatment and ensuring works of art are protected for now and the future. Preventive conservation methods are based on the concept that deterioration and damage to works of art can be substantially reduced by controlling some of the major causes of this in the gallery environment.

Preventive conservation at the NGA aims to preserve all works of art by controlling the environment in which they are displayed, stored and transported.  It includes maintaining stable temperature and relative humidity levels, managing light exposure, controlling pests, disaster preparedness and protecting works of art from other physical or chemical damage.  

Objects, paintings, textiles and paper conservators apply preventive conservation principles in their work in the lab, on display, during transport and in the storage of works of art. Before considering invasive treatment, conservators consider whether preventive conservation options are more appropriate.

The discipline of preventive conservation is a relatively new field compared to the more traditional paintings, paper and objects conservation.  Preventive conservation is one of the most interdisciplinary specialisations as it refers to knowledge from materials science, building science, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, systems science and management, as well as a host of technical fields1.

The NGA employs a Preventive Conservator dedicated to on the ongoing implementation of preventive conservation policies and procedures in line with international standards.  

The activities of the Preventive Conservator revolve around:

  • Environmental monitoring to ensure appropriate conditions – temperature, relative humidity, air quality, and light
  • Integrated pest management to protect works of art from damage
  • Implementing handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, and  transport of works of art
  • Disaster preparedness for the collection
  • Collection protection for special events and activities
  • Assessing loan venues and assisting regional galleries with preventive conservation
  • Encouraging participation and teamwork from all NGA staff to achieve preventive conservation goals -

Preventive Conservation methods can be applied in their simplest form to care for personal collections in the home. 


Ultimately, Preventive Conservation methods applied to the NGA collections are a balance of controls which endeavour to protect the NGA collection while making it accessible for viewing, research and education now and for generations in the future. 

1 refer to Effective Preservation from Reaction to Prediction Robert Waller and Stefan Michalski Getty Newsletter 19.1 Spring 2004 – provides a detailed account of breadth and depth of a preventive conservator’s work.

related articles

Preventative conservation of photographs Lisa Addison Artonview40 summer 2004 pp42-43