Painting conservation

The painting collection of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) comprises paintings from the 14th to the 21st centuries and continues to be expanded through purchases. The types of problems faced in the conservation of paintings are quite varied and some examinations of paintings begin without previous detailed knowledge of the object’s history.

In the process of determining the treatment of a painting, the painting must be varified, the condition of the painted surface and structure must be assessed. In addition to this, the previous treatment history all play an important role in this assessment. As so commonly is the case, the latter has rarely been documented.  Historically seen, paintings in the Middle Ages were composed from un-primed painted cloths, then primed wooden panels were used followed by primed canvas supports. Other materials were less frequently used, such as metal, parchment, ivory, paper or pasteboard.

The ageing of paints and varnishes play an extremely important role in the readability of a painting. In principle, an object that has aged can never be completely restored to its original condition. There are many problems to be taken into account and compromises to be made when deciding what should be conserved or restored in a painting.

In 2002 a great number of paintings that were owned by the federal government, the so-called "German War Art Collection", were transferred to the DHM. This collection stemmed from the former property of the Reich Chancellery and thus from Adolf Hitler and was not publicly displayed for a long time. The paintings in this collection that required conservation treatment generated considerable discussions regarding the type of treatment that they should receive because they are such historically burdened paintings. Questions regarding the degree to which purely conservatorial or aesthetic measures to be undertaken were more intensly debated than usual. 

The conservators in the painting conservation department of the DHM also conserve and restore the collection of polychrome wooden sculptures – i.e. sculptures that are carved, primed and painted.