Since 1975, the Department has applied all the technical means and conservation criteria at its disposal to the new demands of museums and played an active role in the evolution of the Museum. The principal objective of the Department is to conserve those works of art comprising the Museum's own Collection as well as all other works of art or objects of cultural interest kept in Museum installations. The Department plays a fundamental role in gleaning scientific knowledge regarding works of art and in divulging this same information to both the general public and the scientific community.
The aim of preventive conservation is to avoid any damage being caused to works of art. This materialises in a series of indirect steps:
Conservation treatments or, as they are referred to nowadays, curative conservation treatments, suppose works of art being subjected to direct actions and are only applied when a particular work of art is found to be in a state of deterioration. These treatments concern, for example, the consolidation of materials and their structural and chemical stabilisation. Those restoration interventions which normally imply a change in the aspect of a work of art are applied to restore or permit the appreciation of works without changing their significance. Though this work has always traditionally been associated with conservationists/restorers, new museum needs, however, have given rise to new conservation and research measures. Given the variety of the works of art that make up the Collections of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, we had to develop an interdisciplinary way of working, something which led to the increasing collaboration and exchange of specialists from several different public institutions, such as the Institute for the Cultural Heritage of Spain, the Senior Council for Scientific Research and the Prado National Museum.
The idea is to inform people about the works in the Museum collection and the artists who produced them. Documentary research and scientific analysis provide accurate information on the media and techniques used in each work. Ultraviolet light reveals data about the surface of the work, infrared reflectography accesses the deeper layers of paint. X-rays provide information on structural and construction features, and stratigraphic analysis gives further details about the paints and primers used. These techniques are often associated with chemical analysis of the exact makeup of pigments, charger materials, binders and varnishes. Fabrics used in the canvas, the wood used for the support and sculptural materials are likewise all studied.
All this information that frequently requires the interdisciplinary collaboration of different specialists is compiled and then contrasted with scientific criteria in the Conservation and Restoration Department, resulting in it then being possible to study the state of conservation of a given work of art that is being studied, diagnosing possible pathologies and determining the most appropriate treatments. At the other extreme, however, we can additionally delve deeper into the specific way of working of the piece's author and ponder the stylistic and conceptual aspects of his, or her, work. These techniques and work methodologies provide sources of tremendously rich information that allow us to elaborate on the dating of a work of art in a period of history and even in the trajectory of an artist. In short, they are indispensable for elaborating any study or intervention to which any object of cultural interest is subjected.
In 2013, Iberdrola began to contribute to the Museum’s annual conservation and restoration programme. Under the agreement, the company provides an annual renewable amount of €75,000, which enables the Museum to treat a selection of art works in the collection, thus underwriting part of the Museum Conservation & Restoration Department’s mission.