Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery


The contrast between the appearance of a work of art which has been professionally restored and one which continues to suffer from at least some of the ills which art can be heir to can seem nearly miraculous, or so subtle as to be invisible to the casually observant eye.

The ills are numerous and reflect the fragility of many if not most works of art. Variations in relative humidity can cause a canvas to shrink or expand. Variations in temperature can do the same. With time and continued fluxations, tiny cracks may appear and grow into fissures that cross the surface of the painting. The paint may actually lift away from the canvas; if the cleavage is sufficiently severe, flakes of paint may fall away from the surface and be lost. Both paint and canvas may become so dry that either can threaten to turn to powder when touched.

The artist may use a stretcher too flimsy for his canvas. The canvas itself may develop draws, sags and buckles, all of which threaten the paint on the surface.Or the artist may use paints and glazes which are chemically incompatible; he or she may use materials that are destined to self-destruct. (As an example, for a large number of drawings, Franz Kline used paper that was expected to last only a year or two: pages torn from a Manhattan telephone directory).

Apart from such inherent vices, a work hands of a viewer reaching to fleetingly explore the actual texture of a surface leave behind a residue of oils and grime. Rings or buttons or fingernails may mar the surface. In time, soil and scratches multiply and the original work becomes defaced. These problems and dozens of combinations and variations the conservator must face. Some difficulties have quick solutions. More usually, conservations and restoration is painstaking business. Compounding the problems themselves is the fact that the contemporary conservator refuses to simply repaint where part of an image is lost. Further, conservation now is done so that it may be reversed. The intent is to recover the artist's intent as fully as possible without supplying counterfeit passages which fuse with and become a permanent part of the work.