Reversibility is now emphasized so as to reduce problems with future treatment, investigation, and use.
In order for conservators to decide upon an appropriate conservation strategy and apply their professional expertise accordingly, they must take into account views of the stakeholder, the values and meaning of the work, and the physical needs of the material.
Conservation of cultural heritage can be described as a type of ethical stewardship.
Conservation of cultural heritage applies simple ethical guidelines: Often there are compromises between preserving appearance, maintaining original design and material properties, and ability to reverse changes.
The early development of conservation of cultural heritage in any area of the world is usually linked to the creation of positions for chemists within museums.
In the United Kingdom, pioneering research into painting materials and conservation, ceramics, and stone conservation was conducted by Arthur Pillans Laurie, academic chemist and Principal of Heriot-Watt University from 1900.
Conservation of cultural heritage involves protection and restoration using "any methods that prove effective in keeping that property in as close to its original condition as possible for as long as possible." Conservation of cultural heritage is often associated with art collections and museums and involves collection care and management through tracking, examination, documentation, exhibition, storage, preventative conservation, and restoration.
The scope has widened from art conservation, involving protection and care of artwork and architecture, to conservation of cultural heritage, also including protection and care of a broad set of other cultural and historical works.
Until the early 20th century, artists were normally the ones called upon to repair damaged artworks.
Louis Pasteur carried out scientific analysis on paint as well.