preserving old painting


Grumbler in Training
May 16, 2005
I’ve got a little canvass painting from 1865 that’s worth preserving. I plan on hanging on to it for another twenty or thirty years before selling it, and I want to take care of it in the meantime.

The wood stretcher that it’s on does not appear to be sealed in any way. Should I find a conservationist to re-stretch it onto a sealed stretcher, or leave it as is? I can see from the holes in the margin that it’s already been re-stretched once.

How do I find a qualified conservationist in Connecticut?

Thanks in advance.
How old do the current bars look?

If they look to be about 50 years old, and there doesn't appear to be any burning or damage deriving from the bars, why do you assume that they are bad?

When did stretcher bars become villians?

as for a qualified conservationist, start with your local museum. Or there is always Google.
Welcome to The G. It seems you are not a framer, but an interested collector, right?

Your concern about the stretcher bars may be unfounded -- unless, of course, you see obvious deterioration or damage to the canvas. And if so, then it may need more than simple re-stretching to new bars.

Yes, it is true the bare wood is acidic and could cause deterioration of the canvas in contact with it. However, canvases have been mounted that way for centuries, and most of them have survived OK.

A conservator would be a better source of information than any of us mere framers. Re-stretching the canvas is an invasive process, making more holes and changing the way the canvas weave is stressed. So, as I understand it, the prevailing wisdom is to leave it alone unless there's reason to change it.

You can find a conservator in your area by visiting the AIC web site. It might be (I can't recall it now), or you could Google "American Institute of Conservation". You might also get a good referral from a local art museum.

I hope this info is helpful. Good luck with your precious painting.
As Jim has implied, well enough is often best left alone. The side grain of wood, which is probably what is showing on your stretcher, is
much less likely to emit than end grain would.
The aging that shows up on the back of old canvases may be a result of atmospheric pollution,
since it is usually seen over all rather than
exclusively in the area proximate to the wood
of the stretcher. If the paint is not flaking off
of the fabric and the fabric seems strong, just
keep it in a cool, dry place and out of harms way.

I agree with the previous posters. Leave it be. But I would take it to a good conservator to have it looked at. Paintings that are 100+ years old quite often need some TLC. Surface dirt may need to be cleaned off. It may need to be revarnished as well. Like Baer said find a REPUTABLE conservator (Don't look him/her up in the phone book) by calling a good art museum. Don't assume thAt your local framer will know what to do with it or tell you that they don't before they destroy it. We framers can be arrogant at times and assume that we can do things that we can not. Present company excluded of course.
Originally posted by briank:
...Don't assume thAt your local framer will know what to do with it or tell you that they don't before they destroy it. We framers can be arrogant at times and assume that we can do things that we can not...
That's an excellent point about framers -- too many are willing to attempt work they are unqualified to do. Unwary consumers fall victim to their long-experienced, neighborhood "experts".

You could be right; maybe it is arrogance that leads some framers to think they have all the answers. But I'd rather believe the risk tendency comes more from ignorance than from arrogance.

A lot of framers learned their skills by trial & error, or from a similarly self-taught mentor -- relatively in isolation. Those framers are accustomed to figuring out how to do unfamiliar things. And that's a wonderful attribute, up to the point at which it endangers an item of value.

The more we learn, the more we realize we do not know. Personal experience tells me framers who seek formal education & attend classes are more sensitive to the risks of unfamiliar procedures.