A major responsibility of the Art Gallery of Western Australia is the care of the works in the State Art Collection. To fulfill this role, the Gallery’s Conservation Department undertakes a variety of tasks including environmental and pest control, analytical research and documentation, and where needed, cleaning and restoration treatments such as tear repairs, and retouching. Conservators are highly specialised and professionally qualified, and work within the four sections of the Department: Paintings, Works of art on paper, Objects, and Frames.
Ppaintings conservator, Dr Maria Kubik, applies solvents under a fume extraction unit.
The Gallery aims to display paintings in their best condition, as close as possible to the artist's original wishes. Where a painting is obscured by dirt, overpaint or darkened varnish, it no longer reflects the artist's original vision. Varnish is an optional final layer applied by the artist, saturating and protecting the surface. The natural resins traditionally used in varnish deteriorate over time, seen as cracking, yellowing, darkening or blanching. Discoloured varnish changes the tonality of a painting, reinforcing warmer colours, while whites appear yellow and blues turn green. As this obscures the original image, the painting's surface must be cleaned and the deteriorated varnish layers removed.
|Cleaning can lead to a dramatic change in appearance, often leading to both acclaim and controversy from the public. Whether, and how, to clean is guided by the materials which make up a painting, its aesthetic properties, and the nature of the obscuring dirt or varnish layer. It is also determined by safe cleaning options: These must selectively remove the problematic layer, but leave underlying original layers untouched. In each case, research into materials and cleaning methods is undertaken as part of the treatment proposal, and each painting is treated as a unique artifact. The decision to clean is a collaboration between curators and conservators.|
See our conservation at work in our ‘As white as snow’ – a treatment example.
For further details about conservation, visit:
Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material www.aiccm.org.au