The Conserving Canvas initiative, run by the Getty Foundation, was launched earlier this month to foster inter-generational and inter-organisational sharing of information and best practice by creating opportunities where conservators can regain knowledge about past conservation techniques, work together to make decisions, and experience hands-on training.
The Conserving Canvas grants will fund the conservation of paintings, workshops, seminars, training residencies, and a major symposium that will address the state of the field, the first such meeting since 1974, to be held at Yale University in October 2019.
Canvas supports became popular at the end of the 15th century, and have continued to be the primary material on which painters create their work. For centuries, it was common for restorers and conservators to protect these paintings by backing or lining them with another canvas to add general structural strength or repair rips and tears.
As these linings age, some can create strains on the original canvas that cause the paint layer to separate and ‘cup’ away from the fabric support. In other instances bubbles can form, often significantly disfiguring the painted image.
Recent decades have seen the field embrace minimal intervention for paintings on canvas – altering an existing artwork as little as possible – as best practice, but this comes at a price.
Today many paintings in museum collections around the world that were lined – and now have structural failures – are not being treated, largely because conservators feel insufficiently experienced with existing practices for safe intervention.
At the University of Glasgow, a £115,000 grant will bring pairs of conservators-curators to the College of Arts and the Hunterian for training workshops related to the conservation of five canvas paintings from the Hunterian and the National Galleries of Scotland, including Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Lady Maynard (c.1759-60).
Other grant recipients include the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California; the National Gallery, London; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Statens Historiska Museer, Sweden; Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg, the Netherlands; and Yale University.
Deborah Marrow, Getty Foundation director, said: “Through extensive consultation with specialists in the conservation field including experts at the Getty, we heard that there is a growing skills gap between senior conservators who learned treatments of paintings on canvas decades ago and newer museum conservators who need to address pressing problems for paintings in their own collections.
“Conserving Canvas creates opportunities for international collaboration among conservation professionals, so that critical knowledge can be shared, discussed, and disseminated.”