Craquelure – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

What is Craquelure?

Craquelure is the term used to describe the network of fine cracks that appear on the surface of paintings over time. These cracks can be caused by a variety of factors, including the natural aging of the materials used in the artwork, changes in temperature and humidity, and improper handling or storage.

Craquelure is often seen as a sign of the authenticity and age of a painting, as it is a natural part of the aging process for many artworks. However, excessive craquelure can also be a sign of damage or deterioration, and may require conservation or restoration to prevent further deterioration.

Causes of Craquelure

There are several factors that can contribute to the formation of craquelure on a painting. One of the most common causes is the natural aging of the materials used in the artwork, such as the canvas, paint, and varnish. As these materials age, they can become brittle and prone to cracking.

Changes in temperature and humidity can also cause craquelure to form on a painting. Fluctuations in these environmental conditions can cause the materials in the artwork to expand and contract, leading to the formation of cracks on the surface.

Improper handling or storage of a painting can also contribute to the development of craquelure. Rough handling, exposure to sunlight, and improper framing or mounting can all cause stress on the materials in the artwork, leading to the formation of cracks over time.

Types of Craquelure

There are several different types of craquelure that can appear on a painting. “Fine craquelure” refers to small, closely spaced cracks that cover the surface of the painting. “Large craquelure” refers to larger, more widely spaced cracks that can be more visible to the naked eye.

“Patterned craquelure” refers to cracks that form in a specific pattern or design on the surface of the painting. This type of craquelure can be caused by the way the painting was created, or by the materials used in the artwork.

Impact of Craquelure on Artwork

Craquelure can have a significant impact on the appearance and condition of a painting. In some cases, craquelure can add to the beauty and authenticity of a painting, giving it a sense of history and age. However, excessive craquelure can detract from the overall appearance of the artwork, making it appear damaged or deteriorated.

Craquelure can also affect the structural integrity of a painting, as the cracks can allow moisture and other contaminants to penetrate the surface of the artwork. This can lead to further deterioration of the materials in the painting, and may require conservation or restoration to prevent further damage.

Conservation and Restoration of Craquelure

Conservation and restoration techniques can be used to address craquelure on a painting and prevent further deterioration. Conservators may use a variety of methods, such as consolidating the cracks with a special adhesive, filling in the cracks with a matching material, or revarnishing the surface of the painting to protect it from further damage.

Restoration techniques can also be used to repair any damage caused by craquelure, such as filling in missing areas of paint or repairing tears in the canvas. These techniques require a skilled conservator or restorer to ensure that the artwork is properly preserved and restored.

Preventing Craquelure

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent craquelure from forming on a painting. Proper handling and storage of the artwork is essential, as rough handling or exposure to sunlight can cause stress on the materials in the painting, leading to the formation of cracks.

Maintaining stable environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, can also help prevent craquelure from forming. Keeping the artwork in a controlled environment, away from sources of heat, moisture, and direct sunlight, can help preserve the materials in the painting and prevent the formation of cracks.

Regular inspection and maintenance of the artwork is also important in preventing craquelure. By monitoring the condition of the painting and addressing any issues that arise, conservators can help ensure that the artwork remains in good condition for years to come.