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Condition: The Ageing of Art

Condition: The Ageing of Art


The paintings we see today in museums, galleries, churches and temples are often much altered by the centuries. Pictures can split, rot, be eaten by woodworm, warp, blister, crack, cup, flake, darken, blanch, discolour, become too translucent and disappear under a centuries-old varnish; and they can also suffer from the efforts of their owners to rectify these situations: they might be transferred, relined, ironed, abraded or repainted. 


Anyone considering a work of art needs to establish at the outset how much it has changed since it was first made. This act of understanding is far from easy. We need to develop a knowledge of the physical and chemical processes which have brought paintings to their current state, in the hope that we can imagine their reversal. And we have to look as much as we can at a wide variety of paintings, so we can learn to distinguish those in a worse or better state of preservation; we have to try to understand what it is about a picture that differentiates good and bad condition. Theories of art history have been built on works whose appearance is made up of little more than repaint and decay, and the beginner needs to be warned about the many pitfalls dug by time for the unwary. This book is meant both for that beginner and for the qualified practitioner who might have missed a step along the way.


While there are many books on conservation and restoration, there is nothing which focuses specifically on condition. The plan here is to provide a hands-on introductory text, which can be used as a first orientation in the study of condition, and can remain as a basic reference work when the reader’s studies have progressed further. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in art.


Far too complex for their own good, European ‘Old Master’ pictures – by the likes of Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Leonardo, Poussin, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Turner and Van Gogh – rely for their delicate effects on layers of fragile materials, all of which are subject to change and decay. No-one can enjoy them to the full without an understanding of how and what they may have survived, suffered or lost in the journey through the years. 

  • By Paul Taylor

    Paperback, 242 x 168 mm
    264 pages, 140 colour illus.
    ISBN: 978 1 907372 79 7


  • In the press

    Best Art Book 2015 — Evening Standard 


    “This engrossing paperback will teach you never to look at an Old Master painting in the same way again.” — Evening Standard 


    “In this eloquent study, the art historian Paul Taylor demonstrates that all artworks undergo countless metamorphoses.”  —The Guardian 


    "This is a book that should be on the reading list of every art-history undergraduate, graduate and many museum curators too … as an introductory text, it is difficult to imagine how it could be bettered … excellent."  —The Burlington


    A hugely welcome publication, which sets out the knowns and unknowns of the subject in a series of lucid chapters on losses, cracking, pigments, darkening and cleaning …. Taylor’s even-handedness is exemplary.” —Apollo 


    “Beautifully written…an essential reference work for art historians and amateurs.” —The Times Literary Supplement


    “Thorough and readable” —The Art Newspaper 


    "An invaluable introduction to a topic often overlooked by art historians." HNA Review of Books


    "This excellently clear publication … is accessibly written, well-illustrated and has a comprehensive bibliography. It does not talk down to its readers. For the conservation student it is an excellent introduction." —Icon News, Journal of the Institute of Conservation 


    "Well written, organised and illustrated, crammed with information and anecdotes and clever remarks…a very good book." —Kunstschrift 

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