<p>Principal Conservator Sarah Hillary analysing a paint sample in the Conservation Research Centre.</p>

Principal Conservator Sarah Hillary analysing a paint sample in the Conservation Research Centre.

Conservation research is necessary to inform decisions to preserve and treat artworks. Our conservators' research into materials and techniques also contributes additional knowledge about the items in our collection.

Conservation research investigates the history, materials and physical structure of artworks, while also considering  artists’ intentions. This information can help identify causes of deterioration to artwork, as well as suitable care and treatment methods. It can contribute to knowledge of artists’ practices and help with investigations into the age and originality of artworks.

An example is the technical examination of artist Guido Reni's Saint Sebastian c1625 by our conservator Sarah Hillary and curator Mary Kisler. The results of their combined research informed a major treatment of this painting and explored questions of authenticity.

Studies into the materials and techniques of New Zealand artists have been a priority for our conservators, and includes research into the work of artists Frances HodgkinsGottfried Lindauer, Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Tony Fomison. A recent collaborative research project into the early use of PVA glue and acrylic paints by New Zealand artists between Auckland Art Gallery, Getty Conservation Institute and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa contributed to the exhibition, Modern Paints Aotearoa.

We have a growing collection of over 400 time-based media artworks. These works have time or duration as an element and/or rely on technology such as video, film, digital media, audio, computer technologies and light boxes. The 2014 Marylyn Mayo Intern, Brooke Randall, researched the practical needs of this specialist collection to ensure its long-term preservation. You can read more about her internship on the INCAA Asia Pacific website.

Examination of the materials and techniques of an artwork can greatly aid our ability to preserve our collection and make informed treatment decisions. The 2015 Marylyn Mayo Intern, Genevieve Silvester, undertook a technical examination of a painting by Frances Hodgkins. The work appeared to be an oil painting, but was inherently unstable and vulnerable to loss of paint. On closer examination and scientific analysis undertaken at our Conservation Research Centre and in collaboration with the University of Auckland School of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, Genevieve discovered the use of other types of media. Gouache (a type of paint), shellac (a varnish) and possibly casein (a paint binder made from bovine proteins) were found. After this discovery, Genevieve developed a remedy and restored the work to a condition where it can now be both shown in public and preserved for future generations. The conservation work helped to enhance our understanding of Frances Hodgkins' working practices and resulted in an exhibition and accompanying publication.

Selected publications

'The Back of the Painting: Secrets and Stories from Art Conservation' by Linda Waters, Sarah Hillary and Jenny Sherman, Te Papa Press, 2021.

‘Freedom and Happenstance: Frances Hodgkins’ Materials and Technique’ by Sarah Hillary, Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, 2019, edited by Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler, pp. 197-209.

'Gottfried Lindauer: Painting Materials and Techniques' by Sarah Hillary, Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The Maori Portraits, 2016, edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope, pp. 229–236.

'The Conservation of Frances Hodgkins’ Still Life: Anemones and Hyacinths' by Genevieve Silvester in Frances Hodgkins: Forgotten Still Life, 2015, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, pp 10–16. Available online at: http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/page/frances-hodgkins-forgotten-still-life

'Working on a grand scale: The conservation of The Mocking of Christ by Franҫois Langot' by Ute Larsen and Camilla Baskcomb, ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference Preprints, Melbourne, 15–19 September 2014, edited by J. Bridgland, Paris: International Council of Museums. 

'Modern Paints Aotearoa: Setting a Context' by Sarah Hillary in Modern Paints Aotearoa, 2014, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, pp 7–15.

'The Paint in Painting' by Sarah Hillary in Five Māori Painters, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2014, pp 81–5.

'The early use of synthetic emulsion paints by New Zealand artists' by Sarah Hillary, Katherine Campbell, Melanie Carlisle, Herant Khanjian, Tom Learner, Michael Schilling, AICCM, Volume 34, Issue 1 (December 2013), pp. 44–56. Available online at http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/bac.2013.34.1.006

'The Materials and Techniques of Gottfried Lindauer' by Sarah Hillary and 'Merging Techniques – New Research into Lindauer's Use of Photographs' by Sarah Hillary and Ute Larsen. Available on Whakamīharo Lindauer Online

'Outside the Square: A Considered Approach to the Treatment of a Three-dimensional Paper Object' by Ute Larsen and Camilla Baskcomb, 6th AICCM Book, Paper & Photographic Materials Symposium Preprints, 2010, AICCM, Melbourne, pp 29-33. Available online at http://www.aiccm.org.au/aiccm-publications/conference-proceedings/outside-square-considered-approach-treatment-three. Also published in The Quarterly, no 81, 2012, pp 11–15.

'Henry Fuseli: Necessity or Frugality? The Artist's Selection of Drawing Papers' by Camilla Baskcomb and Ute Larsen, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, vol 32, no 1, 2009, pp 15-29. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455220802630677. Also published in The Quarterly, no 84, 2012, pp 10–19.

'Degrade, Replace, Reuse?' by Annette McKone, poster and presentation at POPART Preservation Of Plastic Artefacts in Museum Collections 7–9 March 2012, Paris. Available online at http://popart-highlights.mnhn.fr/wp-content/uploads/7_Multimedia_library/Other_works_on_plastic/Poster/degrade_replace_reuse.jpg

'Counterfeits and Conservation - Responsibility or Liability?' by Ute Larsen, Journal of Paper Conservation, vol 12, no 4, 2011, pp 26–30. Available online at: http://www.aiccm.org.au/aiccm-publications/conference-proceedings/counterfeits-and-conservation-responsibility-or-liability

'The Painting Materials and Techniques of Ralph Hotere's Black Nitrocellulose Lacquer Works 1967 to 1977' by Lydia Gutierrez, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, vol 32, no 2, 2009, pp 181–204. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455220903060170

'Auckland's St Sebastian by Guido Reni' by Sarah Hillary and Mary Kisler, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, vol 32, no 2, 2009, pp 205–18. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455220903059818

'Primarily a Water Colourist? The Materials and Techniques of Frances Hodgkins' Watercolour and Gouache Works on Paper' by Ute Larsen, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, vol 32, no 1, 2009, pp 3–14. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455220802630594?queryID=%24%7BresultBean.queryID%7D

'Colour, Tone, Line & Form: Rita Angus's Technique' by Sarah Hillary and Katherine Campbell, Rita Angus: Life and Vision, William McAloon and Jill Trevelyan (eds), Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2008.

'Selected Area XPS Analysis for Identification of Pigment Compounds in Microscopic Paint Flakes' by Bryony Joanne James, Rebecca Cameron and Camilla Baskcomb, Research Letters in Materials Science, Volume 2008, 2008, Article ID 247053, unpaginated. Available online at: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/amse/2008/247053/

'Traction Reaction: Severe Deterioration of Household and Paving Paints Used by Colin McCahon' by Sarah Hillary, Tom Learner and Rachel Rivenc, Contemporary Collections, AICCM National Conference Preprints, 2007, Brisbane.

'A Painters Paradise: The Materials and Techniques of Colin McCahon' by Sarah Hillary, Journal of New Zealand Art History, vol 27, 2006, pp 70-88.

'A Lively Parrot: Frances Hodgkins' Wings Over Water' by Sarah Hillary and Joyce Townsend, Journal of New Zealand Art History, vol 26, Spring 2006. Available online at http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/lively-parrot-frances-hodgkinss-wings-over-water

'Beneath the Surface: McCahon's Materials and Techniques 1954–66' by Sarah Hillary and Kendrah Morgan, Auckland Art Gallery, 2000. Available online at http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/page/beneath-the-surface-mccahons-materials-and-techniques-1954-66

Support from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and Creative New Zealand made some of these research projects possible.