The paper and photograph conservation section is responsible for the care and preservation of a significant portion of the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection, approximately 42,000 artworks, as this material type spans almost all collecting areas.
The works in the Indigenous collection date from the nineteenth century, and various materials have been used including paper or card. For example, the extraordinarily beautiful Tiwi paintings in ocher, the William Barak watercolours, and the bound pen and ink drawings by Tommy McRae.
The Prints and Drawings collection, known for its outstanding holdings of works on paper from the 1400s to the present day, includes drawings, watercolours, pastels, prints, posters, illustrated books, sketchbooks and ivory miniatures. From early hand-coloured woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, through to exquisite pastels by François Boucher, landscape etchings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, aquatints by Francisco José de Goya and sublime watercolours by William Blake. Within the Australian collection paper conservators care for intimate sketchbooks by John Glover and Georgiana McCrae, modernist linocuts on feather-light paper by Ethel Spowers and paintings by Fred Williams using charcoal straight from the burnt bush where he was painting.
The Asian collection contains many art forms, including hanging and handscrolls, folding screens, fans, albums, Thangka’s, miniature paintings, colour wood block prints and other graphic material. The origins span from Persia to the Far East and their materials and construction are equally expansive. Of distinction within this group are the Chinese and Japanese hanging scrolls and the Court paintings from Rajasthan.
The International and Australian Contemporary collection provides the paper conservators with challenges and intrigue as artworks can be experimental, interactive, three-dimensional and are often on a grand scale. Examples of such are artworks made of spider-web, mould, graphite dust and butter.
Where artworks require treatment this may include, reduction of staining, removal from acidic surrounding material, removal of tapes or other foreign attachments, repairing tears or infilling areas of loss that involves retouching and consolidating loose, flaking or friable pigment.
The Photograph Conservator is responsible for the ongoing care of the NGV’s vast collection of photographic prints, from the oldest processes, such as daguerreotypes and salted paper prints, through to contemporary digital prints. Photographs are sensitive and complex and encompass many different processes and materials. The supports vary from metal, glass and ceramic to paper and plastic, while the image forming material can be metals such as iron, platinum or silver in various binders, and also pigments and dyes. An understanding of processes and materials is imperative to enable informed and appropriate methods of conservation to ensure the longevity of the collection.
A thorough understanding of the materials and construction of all artwork is essential, and a cautious approach is always taken by the paper and photograph conservators. A combined respect for the age of the artwork and an understanding of the artist’s creative process is always taken into consideration.
The work of the Paper and Photograph Conservators is supported and enhanced by two Conservation Art Technicians. Using a range of archival and reversible hinging methods tailored to the needs of each artwork, the technicians cut custom-made, archival quality mounts of various styles to ensure the NGV’s vast Paper and Photographs collection is safely stored. In addition, they are responsible for a busy program of framing works in custom and standard frames for display and loan.