Meet David, a Maltese conservator-restorer. He spends most of his time inside a well-lit laboratory treating damaged paintings and polychrome sculpture. He remains focused and careful, knowing that the treatment of valuable artworks carry great responsibility. He starts by examining and understanding the needs of his silent patients, often making use of scientific techniques. The treatment has to be tailor-made for each artwork.       

The conservator-restorer has an equally important task outside his laboratory. He can visit a museum or a private residence to examine a paintings collection in situ, verifying whether the paintings are in a good condition and if they are at risk of being damaged or deteriorated. If there is a risk of damage and deterioration, the conservator has to find a way of protecting the artworks and to ensure that they are kept in a safer environment. It is recommended, for instance, to keep paintings inside internal rooms and prevent hanging them on external walls. Keeping artworks distanced from a wall can also significantly extend their lifetime. Such precautions are referred to as preventive conservation. 

Sadly, conservators are usually requested to view a painting after noting damage or advanced stages of deterioration. This demands treatment in order to stabilise the artefact's condition. Detached paint, for instance, needs to be treated with an adhesive to prevent further paint losses. Likewise, a weakened statue can be reinforced to prevent it from falling apart. Such interventions are referred to as conservation treatment. 

The loss of paint as well as the darkening and yellowing of artworks as they age, for instance, often prevent viewers from appreciating the artworks' beauty and significance. In such cases, it may be deemed necessary to remove the dark yellowed varnish layer to uncover the beautiful colours of a painting or statue. Paint losses could also be filled and retouched to reduce their evidence. Such treatments are meant to improve the visual quality of an artwork and are referred to as restoration. One must stress, however, that such restoration treatments are not always necessary. Retouching interventions are always kept to a minimum, following strict modern conservation ethics. This is done in order to limit altering the original quality of the artwork. After all, one should be reminded that the prime aim consists in conserving - to extend the lifetime of the artwork - rather than restoring a work of art to improve its aesthetic quality.  

In order to better understand the artwork, the conservator starts by examining the artwork to determine how it was made by the artist. The latter is referred to as the artist's manufacturing technique. During this preliminary investigation, the conservator also checks whether a particular artwork was restored and modified in the past. All this information will not only help us in appreciating the artwork's function, value and significance, but also to better understand which conservation and restoration treatments are necessary for every artwork. The conservator is obliged to identify the most appropriate treatments and materials for every single artwork. This can be achieved not only by the conservator's personal working experience, but by keeping abreast with the latest research and by collaborating with other professionals - including art historians and conservation scientists - for a multidisciplinary approach. The information gathered on the artwork is always documented and compiled in a report for future reference. Any treatments carried out on an artwork is also documented, explained and justified in this report. 

Deterioration of artworks is typically manifested by cracked and flaking paint. Minute round holes that are indicative of insect infestations may also be noted. Such deterioration often result when artworks are kept in an improper environment. Several years ago, a client who had a perfectly preserved 19th century painting hung in his bedroom did a terrible mistake as he relocated his painting in the living room to be appreciated by his guests. The living room was kept very warm during winter with the intermittent use of an electric heater. The painting started to lose paint after just a few days. After contacting a paintings conservator to have it treated, the conservator was obliged to inform the client why and how the deterioration occurred. After treatment, the conservator helped the owner to identify a safer place for his painting in order to preserve it better. The conservator also provided his recommendations on how to take care of his painting. Paint will start to crack and detach, for example, upon hanging paintings close to external windows or just above fireplaces. Owners of valuable artworks are encouraged to seek professional advice to have their artworks assessed and to determine whether the current exhibition environment is adequate for their collection. This will limit deterioration and the eventual need of restoration treatments [read more].    

Artworks are also at high risk of damage during handling and transportation. It is always recommended to avoid handling and transportation of artworks. Paint loss, punctures and tears can also occur due to accidents and vandalism. When such damage occurs, it is advisable to ask a conservator to assess the damage and have it treated in order to stabilise the artefact's condition and limit further losses and deformations.    

So lets start to take a closer look at artworks. We can learn a lot simply by appreciating their beauty and the meaning. And upon spotting signs of damage and deterioration, its always recommended to report it and seek professional help at an early stage. This will save an artwork from irreversible losses and alterations. We can also seek professional advice on how to take care of our treasures and on how to provide them with a safer environment to prolong their existence [read more].

When in doubt contact a qualified conservator-restorer. Read more on the anatomy of paintings and further your research by downloading publications 

deskrizzjoni bil-malti

L-awtur ta din il-websajt huwa David Frank Bugeja, restawratur kwalifikat malti. Is-sajt hija fuq ir-restawr u konservazzjoni ta' pitturi u statwi impittra. L-awtur inkluda gwida semplici ta' kif wiehed jista jiehu hsieb xogholijiet ta' l-arti. 

Creative Commons License by david frank bugeja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Malta License. 
first site version: 2003 
site location: malta - europe