Understanding Conservation

The Conservation Department is responsible for the long-term preservation of all Collection items, to make them accessible now and in the future. 

Conservators at the Gallery have expertise in caring for a range of different objects including frames, paintings, works on paper, miniatures, sculpture and photography. 

The Gallery has three conservation studios – for frames, paintings, and paper, photographs and miniature conservation – which are located near to the main Gallery building. 

Activities undertaken by the conservators include: 

  • Assessing the condition of artworks and their frames prior to acquisition, display and loan. 
  • Providing advice and guidance for handling, packing, moving and displaying the collection, including light levels and environmental conditions. 
  • Regularly surveying the collection on display and in storage. 
  • Undertaking practical conservation treatments, such as removing dirt and degraded varnish layers, stabilising flaking and replacing areas of loss. 
  • Undertaking technical analysis, including X-ray and infrared imaging, and microscopic examination. 

Conservation highlights

As work began to reinstall our Collection ahead of re-opening, conservator Alexandra Gent shared more about the works which have been in the conservation studio ahead of re-display. This includes portraits of the Kit-cat club, an influential club of the late 17th and early 18th centuries which architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh called ‘the best club that ever met’. Find out more about the discoveries made whilst these works were in the studio.


To find out more, read Alexandra Gent’s blog.

Go behind the scenes

Explore more examples of conservation work at the Gallery through our series of Conservation videos.

The Conservation of Katherine Parr


The Conservation of Jane Seymour


The Conservation of Gainsborough Dupont


Conservation of the Naval Officers of World War I


Van Dyck's Self-portrait: The Conservation of the Painting


Van Dyck's Self-portrait: The Frame and its Conservation


The condition of Tudor portraits


Conserving a portrait of King Edward VI


Edward VI: First steps of the conservation treatment


Treatment of a portrait of Edward VI and the Pope


The conservation of the 'Phoenix' portrait of Elizabeth I


Conserving Lucian Freud's sketchbooks


In Room 26 of the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery, we explore the work of Lucian Freud – one of Britain’s greatest portrait artists. Freud’s extraordinary archive includes childhood drawings, letters, and 47 sketchbooks containing over 600 drawings. Learn more about the conservation of these sketchbooks and the work that took place to get them ready for display.