skip to content

Hamilton Kerr Institute

Fitzwilliam Museum

Course Aims and Objectives:

The HKI Master course is delivered through an integrated approach of practical training and theoretical teaching. Students will experience a three-year programme which is focused on the acquisition of core knowledge, skills and understanding. Practical, hands-on experience is gained in an active environment, under the supervision of a highly experienced, professional conservation team. From the outset, students take an active part in the work of the studio and become familiar with technical, scientific, aesthetic and art-historical aspects of the conservation of paintings. Teaching of theory is delivered in a series of seminars, workshops and lectures throughout the first, second and third years. During the course all students will be able to undertake in-situ work in museums, including the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge colleges, historic houses, churches and cathedrals. All in-situ work is supervised by staff and offers an excellent opportunity to understand the intricacies of conservation in action beyond the studio. Student will also attend an annual study trip to a European destination.


The objectives of the Master of Easel Painting Conservation course are:

  • To provide a stimulating environment in which students can reach their full practical and intellectual potential.
  • To provide specialised training and opportunities to develop and practise painting conservation skills, under qualified supervision.
  • To enable students to develop transferable academic research and writing skills to critically assess academic literature as practising conservators and engage in research and teaching.
  • To enable students to contribute to research in the field of easel painting conservation, preventive conservation, and technical art history, and collaborate with researchers from the fields of heritage science and humanities.
  • To develop a wide range of skills which will constitute the first step towards eventual accreditation by the UK’s Institute of Conservation (ICON)
  • To prepare students for freelance work in both private practice and public engagement contexts.    



Programme of Study:

The Master of Conservation of Easel Painting is a three-year, full-time course. The course takes place in the studio over five days a week, including a study day, with occasional activities at the Fitzwilliam Museum and in situ projects. The Master programme is taught in three twelve-week terms. Term dates will be notified by your Course Administrator. You must accept your offer and satisfy all the conditions of admission by the dates set out by the university Admissions Office.

Year 1:

The first year of study consists of approximately 40% theoretical teaching and 60% practical instruction and studio practice. Students are introduced to the physical structure of paintings, artists’ methods and materials. Practical instruction is delivered through the supervised reconstruction of paintings in oil and tempera on canvas and panel. Students acquire observational skills through careful interrogation of original artworks and are required to read relevant primary and secondary source material on historical painting techniques and materials, to inform the reconstruction process. The first year also introduces the students to preventive conservation practices and practical conservation methods in the studio. Formal teaching of theory also takes place through a comprehensive lecture, seminar and workshop series, delivered by staff and visiting specialists, covering introductions to topics such as historical painting techniques, heritage science and environmental actions and control, ethics, history and theory of conservation, photographic methods, and chemistry for painting conservation.


Year 1 - Units of Study:

Unit 1: Theoretical study

  • Historical painting techniques and materials.
  • Conservation ethics, history and theory.
  • Heritage science: analytical and imaging methods.
  • Environmental considerations and preventive conservation.


Unit 2: Practical Instruction

  • Supervised partial reconstruction of historical paintings.
  • Practical Photography and imaging techniques.
  • Studio teaching at the easel (painting conservation).



Year 2:

In the second year, the emphasis is on a more intensive studio experience and practical work focuses on understanding painting treatments of increasing complexity at incrementally higher levels of demand. Studio-based teaching is delivered through focused 1:1 supervision. In year 2, students are given the opportunity to learn structural conservation treatments during placement at the Institute’s Ebury Street studio in London. In the Easter Term, all students participate in a group study trip, accompanied by staff, to one or more UK or overseas cities. During the trip, visits to conservation studios, research institutes and museums are organised to provide valuable learning opportunities. Formal teaching is delivered through a series of lectures, seminars and workshops on varying subjects, both by staff and visiting specialists. As part of their assessment, second year students prepare two 3000-word reports to accompany their practical work, as well as four 3000-word essays on related theoretical subject matter.

Year 3:

In the third year, intensive studio teaching continues with students taking on greater levels of responsibility, and instruction becomes focused on more complex treatments requiring increasingly advanced levels of skill. During their final year, in order to demonstrate knowledge of technical skills and research techniques, students select a painting they will treat, and then make an in-depth reconstruction using techniques and materials employed by the artist. This is accompanied by a supporting report of 5000 words. Third year students will also carry out an original, independent research project, producing a final dissertation of 10,000 words.  



Facilities include workshops for panel treatment and the relining of canvases, laboratory spaces and a photographic and imaging studio. The Institute owns several significant archives including conservators’ archives and a cross-section library, which are used for both teaching and research. The HKI also houses two 19th - 20th century Colourman Archives: Roberson & Co, and Winsor & Newton. It also houses an impressive library of technical and art-historical books and literature, archives, photographs and slides.

Students are fortunate to benefit from a placement at the Institute's London Studio in Ebury Street, which was established in 1980 under the direction of Herbert Lank. Students work there in their second year, for a maximum period of 6 weeks, where they are given the opportunity to learn structural conservation treatments.

As the HKI is a department of the Fitzwilliam Museum, students are able to benefit from forming links with the conservation team at The Fitzwilliam. They are also granted access to the museum library, enjoy collaboration with our heritage scientists and access to the scientific lab at the Fitzwilliam can be organised. Several other Cambridge University museums and collections nearby, also offer a range of opportunities for further independent research and learning.