How Art Conservation Protects an Investment in High Quality Art


By Senior Conservator Peggy Van Witt

© 2010 Peggy Van Witt. All Rights Reserved.

Investing in art is an enjoyable, exciting and interesting endeavor. The subjective nature of art can make shopping and selecting art much like a game of risk – but a fun game, nonetheless. If you have invested your precious time and money in some high quality artwork, it is in your absolute best interest to protect your investment to the best of your ability. Much like you have the oil changed and the brakes inspected on a new car, a high quality piece of art requires a bit of attention and maintenance. We call this attention to detail and investment “art conservation”.

Art conservation does not seek to repair, recolor, or significantly change the aesthetics of the artwork in any way. Art conservation is a means of preserving the artwork via a series of predetermined procedures. The steps taken during art conservation vary according to what type of artwork you plan on conserving and what type of art conservation you wish to carry out.

Of the artwork which is the most sensitive to environmental factors which may damage or devalue it, paintings are at the top of the list. Because paintings consist of materials which are vulnerable to harmful environmental factors, they run a great risk of falling victim to such factors. Materials such as canvas, paper and wood are not durable enough to withstand the hands of father time without a little help. Canvas, if stored improperly in humid or wet conditions, will become tainted with mold spore s, thus becoming greatly devaluing. Canvas, paper and wood are also highly susceptible to water damage. One exposure to water and a painting may be damaged beyond repair, or the art restoration involved will be quite costly.


Types of artwork which are less susceptible to environmental damage are made of more sturdy, hardy materials, such as marble, iron or clay. Sculptures, carvings and even pottery require much less babysitting when it comes to protecting them from the elements. Art conservation practices for artwork such as this is minimal as compared to a painting or drawing. The type of art conservation used involves limited the artwork’s exposure to harmful environmental elements such as chemicals in the air which could cause damage.

Other preventative art conservation methods involve regulating and maintaining humidity levels. If the air contains too much moisture, metal can rust or wood can rot. If the air is too dry, wood can crack and marble is more likely to chip. Properly trained art conservators will know which levels are appropriate for each specific type of artwork and will make adjustments accordingly. These adjustments and monitoring techniques will help maintain the value of a work of fine art, thus protecting your investment.

Making small adjustments along the way is a key concept to grasp when thinking about why and how to conserve your art investments. It may be helpful for you to think of a piece of artwork like you would the engine of a car – a metaphor we used earlier in this article. It is much more cost effective to make small adjustments, like an oil change, or replacing a filter here and there, than it is to have to overhaul the entire engine.

A painting or other piece of fine artwork functions much the same way. It is much better for you to apply a protective varnish, which may cost a bit of money along the way, to the surface of your paintings than to have to pay a professional art conservator hundreds of dollars to perform a large scale art restoration on your piece a few years later – all because you didn’t want to spend a few dollars. Taking these small steps in art conservation to care for your artwork properly will preserve its current value and increase its value in the future. Art conservation is one of the most foolproof ways to maintain the value of your investments. Treat your artwork with a bit of proactive attention, and over time, your work will have paid off completely.

 The consequences of improper practice of art conservation are dire. Artwork which has not been properly maintained and/or conserved stands to lose a great deal of its value in very little time. It is therefore important for you, or any museum or art gallery, to seek the advice or skill set of a qualified art conservator to ensure protection and preservation of the valuable works of art. The only way to ensure your art investment appreciates is to take good care of it in the time it is in your possession. Art conservation is the key to proper care and a sound art investment.