condition reports for artists

Condition Reports

Condition reports are a tool artists, curators, conservators, insurance companies, appraisers, and museum professionals use to keep track of the changing physical condition of artworks and their attendant structures (e.g. frames, pedestals, hanging equipment, etc.). Condition reports help to keep tabs on the physical health of art and are very important when it comes to appraising the value of work. Serious arts institutions will ask that you submit a signed condition report for each work you leave in their care. This condition report will be reviewed by the institution and will be updated before the work is returned to its owner. Condition reports are a safeguard against future destruction of the work and help to cover liability for damaged work. Even if the venue does not ask for one, it is a good idea to have one ready to present at a moment’s notice.

Each institution has its own special way of constructing and writing condition reports, but each report has some basic features. You will find each of these fields in the condition report included in the GYST software:

Date of report

Name of person conducting report




Artwork inventory number

Title of work

Date work was created


Dimensions (framed and unframed)


If possible, wear white gloves when evaluating the condition of the work. White gloves allow you to notice when work is dirty, and they also protect the work from destructive oils on your hands. An actual evaluation never uses terms like “good, bad, or fair”; instead, it sticks to specifics and is only concerned with physical changes to the work.

The condition report is divided into two sections: Recto, meaning front; and verso, meaning back. There is usually a space to make a rough drawing of the work divided into a grid. 

The person conducting the report usually makes notes on this drawing indicating where there is damage to the work. This can be done by giving each instance of damage its own letter, which corresponds to a written report adjacent to the drawing. For example, if there is a tear in a painting, the tear will be indicated on the drawing and given the letter A. On the description side, the letter A appears alongside the note “2.5 in. tear in canvas. Tear has punctured varnish and paint, and has gone clear to verso. ” If the tear has caused the paint around the opening to flake, you would note this too. The more detailed the analysis, the better. A detailed photo of the damage can be very useful on the report, or attached.

If you are evaluating the condition of a sculpture, choose which side will be the front and which the back, and use your drawing to show this delineation. For media, or time-based work, you will have to make notes as to when damage occurs; e.g., using the time code of a DVD, or a frame of a film.

Condition Report Terminology

Abrasion – an alteration of the surface of a work caused by friction with another object.

Accretion – a build up of material on the surface of the work. Make notes as to what this substance is, because it’s not always dust or dirt. 

Blanching – numerous tiny white dots or specs occurring on a painted or treated surface. This usually results from poor handling and puncturing.

Bleeding – the spread of pigment after the work has been created. Usually related to water damage.

Bloom – less serious than blanching, but also containing numerous small white dots marring the clarity of painted surface. Usually located in the varnish of a painting.

Blush – damage similar to a bloom occurring in lacquer.

Check – an opening of a piece of wood that occurs along the grain. It is smaller than a split in the wood but usually precludes to a larger split.

Chip – a broken piece of material on the work, usually fully or partially separated from the work.

Cleavage – an area of small cracks in the work separating the underlying material of the work.

Cockling – two or more parallel waves on a piece of un-creased paper.

Corrosion – loss to a portion of the work where a foreign agent has caused a chemical reaction.

Crack – a linear or planar fault in a surface. This can also be a break in the surface of the work that does not involve loss of material. 

Crackle – an area of perpendicular cracks that does not involve cleavage.

Craquelure – an intricate accumulation of crackle often caused by climate changes.

Crevice – a narrow but deep type of crackle.

Dent – a concave distortion in the surface that does not include loss.

Dig – a dent that includes loss or displacement.

Discoloration – any change in color.

Dishing (a.k.a. Draw) – a warping or disruption of the surface of a canvas caused by unequal tension along the canvas’ stretcher.

Disjoin – a separation of elements or portions of an object, in which the separation can be complete or incomplete.

Dust – the accumulation of fine, particle-like ambient dirt.

Embrittlement – the process by which a work becomes more brittle, usually because of exposure to heat or extremely arid climates.

Erosion – a loss of material, usually due to abrasion or embrittlement.

Fading – discoloration resulting in the loss of saturation or value of pigment.

Fingerprint – if possible, make note of which digit of the hand left the print.

Foxing – corrosion of paper, often resulting from mold spores or rusting iron in the paper’s pulp.

Gouge – an area where material has been lost due to a scooping abrasion.

Grime – where dust or other foreign powdery matter sticks to the surface of the work, usually bonding with an oily medium.

Lacuna (a.k.a. Loss) – where a portion of the material of a work has gone missing.

Rift – like crackle, but wider.

Run – where foreign viscous matter has dried on the work.

Smear – grime that has spread over the work, usually due to human intervention.

Spatter – dried foreign matter splattered on the surface of a work. 

Split – a check that runs the entire length of a wood’s grain.

Stain – discoloration resulting in both fading and darkening of the surface of a work

Stretcher Crease – a fold or crease with attendant fine cracks along an edge of a painting’s stretcher.

Tear – an area of the work that has been forcefully pulled apart, often resulting in jagged or irregular edges, usually applied to cloth or paper.


You can also get our popular book for artists which includes all of this information and more here.

Condition Report Form

Download a Condition Report Form for your own work.