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Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any further questions about Conservation of Fine Art MA, please speak to our Postgraduate Team.

What is Conservation of Fine Art?

Art conservation and restoration can be defined as the preservation of structurally sound works of art, the halting of processes that lead to the damage of works of art, and the repair of already damaged works of art.

How long is the programme and how is it structured?

The MA Conservation of Fine Art programme at Northumbria is a two-year full-time professional course leading to an internationally recognised Masters qualification. Students are offered a choice of two distinct pathways: Works of Art on Paper and Easel Painting. Both specialisms are taught in Burt Hall, a Grade II listed building purposely adapted for conservation training. This historic 1890's building provides well-equipped, flexible studios and laboratories for the needs of the postgraduate student.

The programme is divided into three 60 credit modules: Conservation Theory and Practice 1 & 2 and a Dissertation module which runs alongside year two. Dissertation guidance begins in year one and the topic can be either science, literature-based or centred on practical laboratory activities, which may involve qualitative or quantitative research methodologies.

How is the programme delivered?

Alongside the treatment of original works of art, students engage in a series of innovative practical workshops covering the essential skills necessary for entering the profession at junior level. The techniques - which are performed on authentic facsimiles and case studies drawn from our extensive archive - not only serve to inform practice, but build confidence and independence. To help develop critical, diagnostic and research skills, each student captures their methods and results in a portfolio of work which in turn forms part of their summative assessment at the end of each module.

Practical activities are also supported by a series of technical seminars, demonstrations, tutorials and online lectures whose aim is explore the links between theoretical study and activities of the practitioner. Significant emphasis is also placed on developing skills in examining and documenting artworks, preventive conservation, technical art history, and the science behind the ageing and behaviour of both artist and conservation materials.

We also include in our teaching health and safety awareness, ethical awareness and advocacy, the importance of strategic planning and the importance in adopting effective time management skills.

Our high standards reflect national and international guidelines established by professional bodies such as: the Institute of Conservation (ICON), the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) the European Confederation of Conservator Organisations (ECCO), the European Network for Conservation-Restoration Education (ENCoRE), and the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC).

What makes the programme different?

We are one of the few universities worldwide, and the only course in the UK, to offer Works of Art Paper and Easel Painting in the same programme. Teaching these disciplines in close proximity to one another not only promotes a broader understanding of techniques but offers opportunities for collaborative research, particularly in relation to modern and contemporary art where materials are rarely conventional. Current research activities which have significance for both disciplines include problems associated with zinc oxide pigment, acrylic household paints on paper, cleaning using hydrogels and E-Lag lasers. Previous research involved collaborations with Tate Britain on the tempera techniques of William Blake, and paintings from the Francis Bacon Estate provided a focus for characterising synthetic organic pigments common in both 20th century artist paints and printing inks.

Who will teach me?

We have a diverse range of highly accomplished research active teaching staff with many years' experience working for major national and international institutions. Over the years, staff have developed their own expertise and collaborations with institutions such as the V&A, Tate Britain, National Trust and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM). Staff all regularly draw on their contacts to enhance the student experience and secure work placement and internship opportunities.

Current research activities include:

•The development of micro-emulsion gels for the cleaning of plastic art

•Gel nanotechnology and laser ablation of soiled and degraded coatings

•Revival egg tempera techniques in Edwardian art practice

•Sidney Nolan works of art on paper

•The implications of using machine made oriental papers in modern conservation practice

•The techniques and materials of 20th Century Vietnamese paintings

•The methods and materials of Sir Thomas Gainsborough

•The characterisation of Chinese pigments

Students benefit directly from this rich mix of research-active staff.

All staff operate an approachable, friendly, ‘open door’ policy with students who regularly comment on how fully supported they are throughout the programme.

What kind of careers do graduates go on to have?

We have many success stories to report over 40 years of the programmes' existence. Alumni are successfully employed all over the world in many prominent institutions.

In recent months two of our alumni have been promoted to Head of Conservation at MOMA in New York and Senior Conservation Manager at the National Archives in London.

Several students in our current cohort are also beneficiaries of the competitive Anna Plowden Trust Award, and one student from the USA is in receipt of a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. NADFAS provide a substantial annual award to the highest achieving Paper Conservation student. This year's bursary has been used by the student to support her in presenting a paper at an international conference in Norway.

What facilities do you have?

Burt Hall boasts excellent equipment. Recent acquisitions include an ultrasonic nebuliser, a spectrophotometer, a gloss-meter, artificial heat and light ageing ovens and an on-loan E Lag laser. A state-of-the-art FTIR machine and portable XRF are gifts from the Woon Brothers Foundation in Singapore.

Adding to the unique learning facilities of the programme are cross-school research studios - Paper Studio Northumbria and Colour Studio Northumbria and collaborations with Physics, Engineering and Chemical Life Sciences.

What are the employment and progress routes upon graduation?

Northumbria University has led in the development of this area of practice and a high percentage of our graduates secure employment within the sector.

Work placements and the staff’s professional contacts greatly enhance your future career prospects by providing an invaluable opportunity to apply your skills and knowledge within a professional environment.

The high quality learning materials provided throughout your course, teamed with our established record of delivery and international network of contacts places your knowledge and understanding at the forefront of what is required by the sector thus enhancing your employability.

Research and progression from Masters to PhD is also encouraged at Northumbria, and is a growing trend in the sector. We have been fortunate in securing three fully funded studentships in the last two years.

How are students prepared for employment and professional practice?

Work placements:

 Professional work placements play an important role in student development and preparation for the workplace. Staff provide support in identifying, negotiating and administering the work placements, which have for many years been generously supported by a range of major institutions and practitioners in the UK and abroad.

Recent destinations have included:

  • Ryjks Museum
  • National Museums of Scotland
  • Bodleian Library
  • Brighton Pavilion
  • Alnwick Castle
  • The Royal Collection Windsor
  • The MET
  • V&A
  • British Museum
  • National Gallery of Norway
  • Maritime Museum
  • Guildhall
  • Fitzwilliam
  • The Dutch National Archives

Student symposium:

Students have the opportunity to present research papers at the student-led Gerry Hedley symposia in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge. Each institution takes turns to host the event which attracts professional practitioners, teachers and scholars from all over the UK. Post-prints are also produced which disseminate the excellent research globally.

External links:

Students are encouraged to become members of relevant professional bodies and attend major conferences to network with professionals. They are also advised about the Professional Accreditation scheme for Conservators managed by ICON.

Professional skills development:

Tutorial guidance is offered in constructing a professional CV and applications for internships and employment opportunities.

Your future

We continue to support your continuous professional development after graduation through our LinkedIn alumni page, which enables us to alert you to potential jobs, conferences and publications.

A range of career options are available to graduates, with many choosing to pursue roles such as conservation practitioners, researchers and conservation scientists in museums, galleries, archives, libraries and other heritage organisations.

The number of former graduates working in professional practice within the first year of graduating is good and former students work within many high profile organisations around the world including:

  • National Gallery London
  • British Library
  • Tate Britain / Tate Modern
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • British Museum
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  • Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, London
  • Guildhall Art Gallery, London
  • Brighton Pavilion
  • Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM)
  • National Trust
  • The National Archives, Kew
  • National Museum of Wales
  • National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside
  • National Gallery of Ireland
  • Trinity College Library Dublin
  • Chester Beatty Library Dublin
  • National Library of Scotland
  • Centre for Research Collections Internships at the University of Edinburgh
  • National Galleries of Scotland and Gallery of Modern Art
  • National Gallery of Australia
  • National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • AGNSW
  • National Gallery of New Zealand
  • Archive of the Republic of Slovenia
  • National Gallery of Oslo
  • Munch Museum, Oslo
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Teylers Museum, Netherlands
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts Philadelphia (CCAHA)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMART)
  • Getty Institute, San Francisco
  • Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, California
  • National Gallery, Washington
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Metropolitan New York (MET)
  • Asian Art Museum San Francisco
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas
  • Holocaust Museum, New York
  • Nishio Conservation Studio in Washington DC
  • The Library of Congress
  • National Portrait Gallery, Washington
  • Glenbow Museum, Calgary
  • National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
  • National Heritage Board Singapore
  • Indiana University
  • Hong Kong National Gallery
  • KSH & Co Ltd
  • Ringling Art Museum, Florida State University
  • Indiana University

Placement providers

Some institutions which have recently offered work placement / internship opportunities to our students include:

  • British Library
  • Tate Britain
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • The Royal Collection, Windsor
  • British Museum
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London
  • Guildhall Art Gallery, London
  • Brighton Pavilion
  • Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM)
  • National Trust
  • The National Archives, Kew
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  • National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside
  • National Gallery of Ireland
  • Trinity College Library Dublin
  • Chester Beatty Library Dublin
  • National Library of Scotland
  • National Galleries of Scotland and Gallery of Modern Art
  • KSH & Co Ltd
  • National Gallery of Australia
  • National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney AGNSW
  • The Prado, Spain
  • Archive of the Republic of Slovenia
  • National Gallery of Oslo
  • Munch Museum, Oslo
  • National Library of Oslo, Norway
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Teylers Museum, Netherlands
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • National Gallery, Washington
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • National Portrait Gallery Washington
  • Glenbow Museum, Calgary
  • National Heritage Board Singapore
  • Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canada
  • Chitrakala Parishath Art Conservation Centre (ICKPAC), Bangalore, India
  • SMWS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai, India
  • National Heritage Board, Singapore
  • National Gallery of Southern Korea
  • Hong Kong National Gallery

Student publications

Our students have appeared in the following publications:

  • *CeROArt
  • *American Institute for Conservation (CAC / AIC)
  • IIC ECPN Conference, Warsaw
  • *ArtMatters
  • *ICON Heritage Science Group
  • *Gerry Hedley Student Symposium Postprints

*Based on their final year research project


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