Cracked birds example

Geisha before

There are different levels of severity when it comes to cracks in oil paintings, all of which can be assessed and sensitively restored by our highly trained team. 

What causes cracking?

Paintings may appear to have a cracked surface simply due to age. They could also have developed deeper, unstable cracks due to their environment, such as high heat or mould growth. A rapidly changing temperature and humidity level can lead to a contract contraction and expansion of a canvas or wooden panel, creating continued damage until the atmosphere is stabilised. 

Disasters can create and increase the severity of surface cracks, with fires, floods and leaks bringing further instability to the paint.

A very common cause of cracking is accidental damage, such as a push or dent to the surface leaving a circular spider web pattern.

In contemporary and modern art, we find that flaking is often due to the way in which the artwork surface was prepared. Heavy impasto paint layers crack and flake away due to a lack of support or an appropriate ground layer.

How to save a flaking painting

Cracking leads to a weakened paint layer and possible loss of paint. Flaking pigments create further issues due to an exposed canvas and a weak point in the composition that will continue to degrade. When faced with a heavily cracked or flaking painting:

  • Collect all loose fragments of paint – these can be professionally reapplied to ensure artistic integrity
  • Lie the canvas flat with the painted side facing up and avoid movement, do not touch the fragile paint layer where possible
  • Contact our team as soon as possible to prevent continued loss of original paint

Restoring unstable paint

No matter the cause of the damage, our conservators will work to stabilise the cracks through professional methods. Consolidation of cracked painting surfaces may include heat application or small injections of a solution beneath lifting paint. They will also retouch missing areas with an extremely sensitive approach, as well as re-adhering any flakes in order to maintain as much historic and artistic integrity as possible.

Geisha after

Anna consolidating sheila fellAbove: our conservator Anna consolidating the paint layer on a Sheila Fell artwork

Maintaining historic integrity 

Our team will always advise that all loose paint fragments, even very small ones, should be kept aside for a conservator to reapply with professional treatments. This will ensure that as much of the original artwork survives as possible, also helping to maintain artistic value and historic integrity. Any re-touching is completed with tiny amounts of conservation pigment between isolated layers of varnish, this means it does not touch the original artwork and can be easily removed in future without disturbing the artwork. 

Professional conservation

Conservators in our studio have a Masters degree in their field of expertise, as well as many years of experience working in private and public settings to restore important artworks. All restoration work is carried out as sensitively as possible, avoiding disruption to the historic, artistic or personal value of a painting.


Natural patterns of cracking which occur over the course of a painting’s life are often referred to as ‘craquelure’ – these often follow the grain of a canvas and will be very fine in appearance.

If the craquelure is causing a visual disturbance, our conservators can carefully retouch these areas with small and precise amounts of colour-matched pigments. Not only will this resolve the artistic appeal, but add further stability to the paint layer.

Cracked trees

martha quote about flaking and loose paint

Before and after - slide to restore

Missing paint
Black dress cracked
16th century lady
Cracked paint detail
Preraphaelite flaking paint example
Victorian lady cracked paint
Cracked 19th century child portrait
Tudor miniature
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When moving home this summer we decided to have our antique paintings restored. The Fine Art Restoration Company were selected by us and the restoration was very professional. We were delighted with the final results which involved cleaning of several centuries of grime and glaze on the paintings and restoration of the frames. We can recommend their service to potential customers with absolute confidence.

The restoration was done carefully and sympathetically so as not to compromise the original integrity and age of the painting. The old frame was also given much-needed attention to the same high standard. The company arranged the collection and return of the picture which made the process very easy for me. I would heartily recommend Fine Art Restoration Company.

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