Changing impressions

A print conservation project looking at a selection of five engravings, charting the conservation process


Acquired largely for record purposes, the engravings in the National Portrait Gallery's collection are increasingly valued as works of art and for their contribution to our understanding of British history. Unfortunately, the ways in which they were stored and handled in the past reflected their relatively functional status and some have become damaged in consequence. Thanks to a generous grant from the Leche Trust, the Gallery has recently been able to conserve twelve of the largest and most badly damaged prints in the collection. The results of the project are displayed inside.

Changing Impressions is divided into two main sections: in the first we look at a selection of five of the engravings, considering their importance as visual documents; in the second we chart the conservation process itself, illustrating the techniques involved by looking at the work on the remaining engravings. A small final section suggests sources of help and advice for visitors who may have prints in their own collections.

Whilst the Gallery has an ongoing commitment to rescue our prints from decline and make good any damage discovered, resources restrict us to a limited, reactive approach. It is only thanks to the generosity of grant-giving bodies such as the Leche Trust that we are able to make significant and structured inroads into the problem.

Royal Academicians, by Charles (Cantelowe, Cantlo) Bestland, after Henry Singleton, published 1802 (1795)