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On Canvas: Preserving the Structure of Paintings

Stephen Hackney

Throughout its long history in Western art, canvas has played an influential role in the creative process. From the Renaissance development of oil painting on canvas to the present day through Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and other art historical movements—the use of canvas has enhanced the scale of painting, freedom of brushwork, and spontaneity in technique. This book recounts some of that rich history in relation to corresponding developments in conservation practice.

Rather than concentrating on the familiar concerns of cleaning and varnish removal, this volume considers the preservation of a painting’s structure. By focusing on recent studies on the fundamental nature of canvas and its mechanisms of deterioration, the book explains new approaches to the conservation of both contemporary and historical art—including reversible, passive, and preventive treatments, particularly with respect to lining. Written by Stephen Hackney, a conservation practitioner and leader in conservation research, On Canvas is the first book to take a comprehensive look at this important subject and is destined to become an invaluable resource for the field.

Stephen Hackney is an independent scholar and author who trained at the Courtauld Institute of Art (1967–72) and was formerly the head of conservation science at the Tate (for whom he still acts as a consultant). He has written extensively on the subject of oil painting on canvas. 

“This is a book that would complement every paintings conservators’ library. I’d particularly recommend it for student reading lists—I certainly wish I’d had it. It’s an astonishingly useful resource applicable to other conservation disciplines, artists and, in fact, anyone with a fascination of the physical composition and mechanics of canvas paintings.”
—Lynne Harrison, The Picture Restorer

On Canvas is a landmark publication and essential reading for everyone interested in the material history of paintings on canvas and their preservation for future generations. Stephen Hackney brings his experience as a reflective practitioner, conservation scientist and an appreciation of the physical history of paintings on canvas to address the key concerns for their future survival in an era of changes in economic and environmental change.  On Canvas will be a key text for students in conservation, conservators, conservation scientists and curators for the next generation."
—Professor Aviva Burnstock, Department of Conservation, The Courtauld

“If you don’t have a lifetime’s experience in conservation treatments for paintings on canvas, whether preventive or interventive, this book will provide an excellent substitute, because its author has precisely that experience. The book also describes the way canvas ages and interacts with its priming and paint, and summarizes the findings of research from the later 20th century to the present into how paintings on canvas behave in the museum environment.”
—Joyce H Townsend PhD FIIC ACR, Senior Conservation Scientist, Tate, London, UK

“In this succinctly written and thoroughly comprehensive review, On Canvas ranges from well-chosen examples of how artists have used and prepared canvas over the centuries to the treatments employed by conservators to preserve paintings—with all their shortcomings. The book emphasizes the importance of preventive conservation, rather than interventive treatments, and is unique in achieving a well-balanced appraisal of the scientific research over the last fifty years that has led to a better understanding of the factors affecting the long-term preservation of paintings. On Canvas is an invaluable resource for all those involved in conserving canvas paintings and is likely to remain so for some time to come.” 
—Paul Ackroyd, Senior Conservator, National Gallery, London

“A highly informative and detailed look at oil paintings on canvas, from the very earliest through the modern period. Of great relevance to educators in the field of paintings conservation, this book provides clarity and insight into the visual consequences of artists’ use of materials and deepens our understanding of how paintings on canvas behave over time and in relation to their environment.”
—Leslie Carlyle, Associate Professor, Paintings Conservation, Department of Conservation and Restoration, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal

 On Canvas is a wonderful compilation of important and clearly well researched topics the practicing conservator must consider on a daily basis. It beautifully covers the history of artist’s materials, issues of conservation science, and conservation treatments with numerous examples. A must-have book for anyone with an interest in the preservation of fine art.”
—Marion F. Mecklenburg

Great resource that reads like a page turner. Highly informative, complete, well written and lucid. A must for conservators.
—Jaap Boon, Research Director, JAAP Enterprise for Art Scientific Studies  

On Canvas will no doubt form essential reading for the conservation student and is a useful source of reference for the professional too. . . . This comprehensive book will empower conservators to care for canvas paintings more effectively.”
—Christine Braybook, ICON News

“Brings together previously published information from many sources on the subject, clearly evaluated and textualized, and then offers new insights. It will be of great use both to students and emerging conservators as well as to mid-career readers.”
News in Conservation

256 pages
8 x 10 inches
82 color and 34 b/w illustrations, 30 charts
ISBN 978-1-60606-626-3

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute