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The image attached is of a painting which is deteriorating around the edges of the frame. The paint appears to be falking off of the canvas.

It is between 70 and 80 years old, I don't know what type of paint although I would guess oil.

Is there anything I can do to prevent further damage?

enter image description here

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You should consult a professional conservator.

If you're not even sure what kind of paint was used for this painting, chances are high anything you do'll cause more damage.

A conservator can see what kind of paint was used, what may have caused the damage (moisture, too much tension, deterioration of the paint?) and how to effectively stop the damage from spreading. Usually they would have a look at the painting and give you an estimate of the current value as well as an cost estimate for the preservation or repair before you have to decide whether or not you want to engage them.

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    Plus, if the painting has monetary (as opposed to just sentimental) value, you want a professional to handle any conservation task, not another Ecce Homo – Stephie Dec 29 '18 at 22:19
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Conservation is tricky, and I highly suggest that you consult a professional as it is very easy to cause new damage through poor technique or by using incompatible materials. (For example, if you were to put acrylic paint over oil paint, the acrylic would become crackled and flake off due to gases released by the oil paint below. As a second example, if you applied oil paint directly to the exposed canvas, the oil would eventually cause the canvas to rot.)

I am not a professional, but I did take a course in painting conservation while studying abroad in Florence, so I can outline the basics of what a conservator may do to save your painting.

  1. Document original state and damage with photographs and notes.
  2. Use UV light, xrays, or other methods to reveal aspects invisible to the naked eye. (ex. old varnishes, hidden layers, or specific elements indicative of which paint was used originally, etc).
  3. Clean the surface and remove any old varnishes.
  4. Treat the wood supports for insects if needed.
  5. If the canvas itself is too fragile, it may be transferred onto a new canvas and carefully re-attached onto its stretcher bars. (A process of gluing the old canvas onto a compatible new canvas support).
  6. To repair the cracking and missing sections, a thick plaster will be applied with a tiny spatula to fill the gaps. This will be scraped smooth with a scalpel and will be level with the original paint, making the surface appear smooth again. If the texture of the canvas or brushstrokes is evident in the surrounding areas, this will be imitated with the plaster.
  7. Gouache is then applied to the plastered areas, but in a more saturated and lighter color that the original. This will be the base for the next step and keep the finished repair from looking dull.
  8. Colored varnishes applied with tiny brushstrokes will match the repaired areas with the original color.
  9. A clear varnish may be applied at the end if appropriate.

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