J. Laffan Fine Art Conservation

Professional Conservation and Restoration of Fine Art and Antiques, Ireland

Art Damage and Art Conservation - Examples and Information

Paintings and other works of art can become damaged in many ways: fire; water/dampness; and physical impact are all real possibilities over the centuries of an artwork’s lifetime. However even if no disasters befall the artwork, time itself can completely alter its structure, appearance and therefore both its aesthetic and monetary value.

Dust and other airborne particles can adhere to the surface of the painting and over time will build up visible layers obscuring the original colours. Smoke damage is commonly seen in paintings that haven’t been cleaned by professional conservators; many paintings were created before the era of central heating and thus were hung in rooms with open fires.

As well the accumulation of dirt, the surface of paintings will be affected by natural reactions with the air. Oxygen is a particularly reactive element and over time it will react with and alter the varnish that covers and protects paintings. Damaged varnish will radically change the appearance of a painting and can leave the actual paint medium and pigments exposed, which will then be free to interact with the environment and become permanently damaged.

As the paint and its protective coverings are made up of a variety of complex chemical compounds, the restoration and conservation of paintings is an extremely delicate process. Knowledge, experience and great technical skill is necessary in order to restore a painting to its former beauty and value, as any changes can permanently alter and damage an artwork. Fine art conservation must leave the work with its original material intact, it must be reversible and not damage the art, so that it can be appreciated for future generations.

These pages explain some of the common ways oil paintings and murals can be damaged and degraded over time and how pieces affected in these ways can be restored and conserved. We have illustrated this with some examples of our conservation work.