Conservation science and preventive conservation

Our team provide research and support to help care for Tate’s collection

Someone on the Tate Science and Conservation team sampling paint

Dr Judith Lee sampling paint that was applied in the mid -20th century, for analysis

Conservation scientists study artists’ materials and techniques and how they, and artists’ and conservation materials, change over time. Preventive conservation may be defined as all actions which slow or halt the damage or decline of artworks. Both are vital to support conservation treatments, practice and access to works of art.

Samples of paint in the Tate science and conservation department

Samples of paint from the mid- and later 20th centuries, in the organics laboratory

Someone holding gel that will clean artwork

Nanorestart gel being prepared for a treatment to remove dirt from Lichtenstein’s Whaam! 1963

Someone holding painted boards detailing painting techniques

Dr Joyce Townsend in the projects laboratory, with painted boards that explore J.MW. Turner’s painting techniques

Samples of paint in the Projects Laboratory

Projects laboratory, with many samples of modern paints prepared for a workshop on new methods for cleaning painted surfaces

photo of the Tate Microscopy Laboratory

Microscopy laboratory , with tiny samples from artworks collectd over 30 years and more

1. Conservation Science tasks

  • Study how artworks are made particularly those that are difficult to conserve or poorly understood
  • Lead on or join internationally collaborative research projects and initiatives (such as the Modern Oils Research Consortium) and produce publications on a range of artists, a single artist or a particular art or conservation material
  • Provide scientific analysis of Tate’s collection
  • Use a range of microscopic, spectroscopic and mass spectrometric techniques to identify materials and/or understand how they may change over time
  • Disseminate to the wider heritage and scientific professions and the general public

2. Preventive Conservation tasks

  • Collect, analyse and report on environmental and pest data collected in spaces containing art. Environmental data includes temperature and relative humidity levels, light exposure, dust and pollutants
  • Adopt and endorse the Bizot Green Protocol 2015, a set of guidelines for environmental conditions for collections
  • Monitor Tate’s display and storage environments (which vary depending on the building structure or activity in the space)
  • Answer questions regarding the use, display and safe transport of the collections

Selected projects

Project

Modern Oils Research Consortium

This collaborative project explores the challenges in conserving works painted in modern oils. Working together the five partner organisations will ...
Project

Rothko conservation project: Treatment of Rothko's Black on Maroon (T01170)

Rothko’s Black on Maroon was damaged in 2012 when black ink was applied to the lower right corner. A project ...

Project

NANORESTART: NANOmaterials for the REStoration of works of ART

NANORESTART will develop nano-materials to support the long term protection and continued access to modern and contemporary cultural heritage