Conservation Framing

Thoughtful selection of framing materials will enhance an artwork’s protection as well as its appearance. The smallest details can have a significant impact on short and long term preservation. A wide range of mouldings including period style frames are available to create exciting combinations with visual impact.


Many works arrive in my studio held only with nails in the frame.  Nails may loosen or fall out, jeopardizing the painting, or split the wood of the frame or stretcher. Countersunk nails are difficult and risky to remove.

Paintings should be held in the frame without direct insertion of fasteners into the painting. Zinc-plated or brass offset clips are held over the back of the painting and screwed into the back of the frame. Offsets come in standard depths or may be custom shaped to profile. The depth required depends on the degree to which the painting projects from the back of the frame. Ideally, the edges of the painting are fully recessed and protected by the frame rebate.

Offset clips used to secure paintings in frames are screwed into the back of the frame (NOT into the back of the painting). When the painting is flush with the back of the frame, straight mending plates or turnbuttons, such as those seen at right, are utilized.

A Good Fit

The painting must not be forced into the frame – a small gap should be provided to allow for expansion of wood components. The frame rebate should be smooth and cushioned to prevent abrasion of the front edges of the painting. Abrasive contact with a rough, unfinished rebate results in progressive damage and loss that may spread beyond the contact surface, as shown below. The frame should project above the surface of the painting to maximize the frame’s protective function.

The results of poor storage are evident here, as are paint losses and abrasions along the front edges caused by direct, damaging contact with the frame rebate.

Hang Tight!

Wood strength may diminish over time and its hardness and density is variable, so it is a good idea to periodically check the hanging hardware in the back of your picture to ensure it is secure. Hanging hardware should always be inserted in the frame, not in the back of the painting. Of course the frame joins must be secure or the frame could fall apart; any weak component may put the painting at risk.

RECOMMENDED. Various styles of bar (left) and strap or “D-ring” hangers (right) are safe when selected for the weight and size of picture and fastened in sound wood with screws of adequate size and length.
NOT RECOMMENDED. Screw eyes are apt to bend, break, or pull out of the wood – the screw eye at left was removed from an old frame. The use of inadequate, undersized hardware is all too common – the small brass screw eye at right was removed from a four foot square painting!

Protective Glazing

Works of art on paper should always be framed with protective glazing (glass or acrylic), which must be held off the surface of the artwork.

Many people are surprised to learn that paintings on canvas or wood may also benefit from protective glazing, and there is even an historical precedent for doing so. Paintings with particularly vulnerable surfaces, such as those with highly textured paint, may be good candidates for protective glazing. In all instances a healthy space between paint and glass is crucial.

Conservation glazing is so named when it blocks damaging ultraviolet radiation (UV) that may cause fading of colour and other undesireable effects. Ordinary window glass does not stop UV radiation from entering your home. If glare is a concern, a “reflection control” version is available or a nearly invisible product with an anti-reflective coating (“Museum” glass, also shown above). With its superior optical and protective qualities, conservation glazing offers excellent value and is increasingly affordable.

UV is non-visible radiation. Even with conservation glazing, it is still important to keep light (visible radiation) levels to a minimum whether from daylight, direct sunlight, or artificial light sources.

Original Frames

It is usually possible to determine if the picture frame is original to the painting. Replacement of an original frame should not be contemplated without careful consideration; once separated, the value of each is diminished and the work’s original appearance, often undocumented, is lost forever. Consider too that some artists designed, selected, and/or made their own picture frames. Cornerstone principles of conservation are respect for the artist’s intent and for the integrity of cultural property.

This portrait of Dorothy Swan by James McIntosh Patrick is shown before treatment in an original frame which had been overpainted dark grey. The client opted for a custom reproduction frame while retaining the original frame in storage. The new frame was painted the original green colour as revealed in loss areas on the original.

Protective Backings

Backings provide essential protection and are attached as a standard procedure.
A rigid, puncture-resistant, chemically inert backing material is used. Benefits include buffering of the painting from abrupt changes in relative humidity, reduced soiling of the back surface, and limiting or preventing canvas tears and deformations.

Rigid, inert backings also serve as an ideal surface on which to mount labels protected in archival enclosures