Making the decision to have your painting restored is a serious one.  When one is contemplating some sort of medical treatment, it is expected that they will research their condition, the procedure, and their physician.  Just as with a medical treatment, you should try to collect as much information on the condition of your painting and the probable outcome of its restoration and gather opinions from more than one conservator.  Here are some guidelines to understanding the process of conservation and how to find a conservator.

What Does "Painting Restoration" Mean?

Getting your painting "restored" can mean many things.   Paintings need care to keep them looking their best for the longest possible time.   As soon as a painting is made it begins to age.  The natural aging of the painting alone in addition to the accumulation of dirt over the years requires the attention of a trained paintings conservator.  Even if a painting is cared for and displayed properly, it will still experience the effects of natural aging and dirt accumulation.

"Restoration" also includes repairing paintings that have suffered paint loss, weakened canvas, tears, water damage, fire damage, and insect damage.   The goal of the conservator is to stabilize the remaining original artwork and integrate any repairs in order to preserve the artist's original intent.

What Training is Needed to Become a Conservator?

A conservator acquires skill and ability through study and practical experience.  Most restorers today have completed a rigorous course of study through an accredited post-graduate program combined with several years of internships.   However, there are still many top-quality restorers who are apprentice-trained.

The study which is needed includes a knowledge of art history, historical and modern artists' materials, the structure and behavior of these materials, chemistry, and knowledge of the scientific methods available for examining, restoring and preserving objects of art.  In practice, a restorer also needs to be able to interpret, if not obtain, documentation photographs, infra-red photographs, ultraviolet photographs and x-rays.  That a restorer should know how to paint is assumed as part of their manual dexterity.  A restorer is committed to the preservation of the art work and the artist's original intent.

How do I Select a Conservator?

Most museums, when asked, will offer a list of various restorers in the area.  It is up to the painting owner to select a restorer.  The list of names they offer is a convenience and courtesy to the public but never a warranty.  To find a conservator affiliated with a professional organization, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) can supply you with a list of conservators in your area.

Painting owners are advised to consider the recommendations from museums, the AIC, and reputable collectors and evaluate several conservators.  Selection of a conservator should be explored thoroughly.

What to Expect From Your Conservator

If you select a conservator from a list of names, get in touch with them and ask if they can come to see the painting of if you can bring it to them for examination if its condition.  Before you write or telephone, it is wise if you have all the facts about the painting at hand: its approximate date of origin, artist if you know it, dimensions, and some description of what seems to be wrong with it.  Once the contact has been made and the conservator has examined your painting, you can ask them for a report on its condition, their proposed treatment, and an estimate of costs involved.  In some instances, several different treatments may be suggested with an explanation of the result of each will have and a list of ranging costs.  The decision as to which plan is acceptable may depend upon the value of the painting to the owner and the cost of the work.  When financially possible, it is always wisest to carry out the proposal which will best preserve the painting.

Danger Signals in a Restorer

A good practitioner has no need for secrecy for they prospers according to the excellence of their performance.  For this reason, it is wise to avoid any restorer who declines to tell you what they propose to do and insists that their treatment is a private secret, the telling of which would endanger their income.

The Expected Lifetime of a Painting

In the care of paintings, it is essential to consider the continuance of existence.  All things being equal, the life expectancy of a painting is much longer than the life of a man.  There are two points to keep in mind.  First, that the treatment employed should be the best for the immediate preservation of the painting. Second, that it should be executed so that any future removal of the work can be accomplished without in any way endangering the original painting.  Most paintings have already experienced some conservation measures, and they will require conservation in the future.  Any present treatment should be done for the best reasons and with the best materials that are available now to preserve the painting for the future.

Selected Bibliography

Carr, Dawson W. and Leonard, Mark, Looking at Paintings: a Guide to Technical  Terms, Malibu, CA: The John Paul Getty Museum, 1992.
Gettens, Rutherford J. and Stout, George L., Paintings Materials, New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1966.
Gottsegen, Mark David, The Painter's Handbook, New York, NY: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1993.
Keck, Caroline K., A Handbook on the Care of Paintings, The American Association for State and Local History, 1965.
Keck, Caroline K., How to Take Care of Your Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art and The Brooklyn Museum, 1954.
Stout, George L., The Care of Pictures, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1948.
Thomson, Garry, The Museum Environment, 2nd edition, Boston, MA: Butterworths, 1986.