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What Is Conservation?


Conservation is the care and protection of cultural objects. As the caretakers of collections, conservators examine, research, clean and repair artworks, while also taking action to prevent future deterioration. Here at the AGO, the Conservation Team includes conservators, mat makers, framers and mount makers. These specialists work together to ensure each work will look its best not only for today, but also for generations to come.

What Happens in the Conservation Centre?

Just beyond the galleries are the labs and work spaces of the Conservation Team. Here they conduct research, using microscopes and taking x-rays, to learn how the artworks are made and the extent of any damages. They decide if treatment, or “active conservation”, is needed, and what should be done. If a damaged artwork is treated, conservators ensure as much as possible their work is reversible just in case changes are needed in the future.

The image above shows a conservation scientist from the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa taking minute paint samples from the Untitled (Portrait of Henry VIII) for analysis. Paintings are most commonly sampled from areas of existing damage or from areas covered by the frame. Analysis of these samples reveals new information about the painting’s original structure.

The role of conservators at the AGO also goes beyond the research and treatment of art. Conservators work closely with other staff members to ensure artworks are stored, handled, transported and displayed safely.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at our conservators in action. Learn what goes into keeping artworks looking their best and conserving them for generations to come.

Use the links to the right to browse this presentation.

Mat Preparation

AGO mat maker Ralph Ingleton prepares a mat for a photograph. Mats protect works from damages caused by handling and changing humidity levels while also separating the artwork from the frame.


AGO conservator Sandra Webster-Cook retouches an area of old damage in Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Lady with Lap Dog. The new colour is applied on top of anisolating layer of varnish using stable reversible materials.


Myron Jones of the AGO’s Exhibition Services department uses a scope to see the interior of a sculpture’s pedestal, checking how it is secured before moving the sculpture to a new pedestal.


AGO mount maker Brian Gravestock works with intern Marie-Eve Desautels to design and build a mount for an African mask.

Preparation for Display

AGO conservator Sherry Phillips dusts a ship model using a small soft paintbrush to prepare it for display.