David Saunders


+44 (0)20 7323 8669


David Saunders joined the British Museum in 2005 as Keeper of Conservation and Scientific Research after working in the Scientific Department at the National Gallery in London for nearly 20 years. In the role of Keeper he is responsible for establishing departmental strategy and priorities and for ensuring the department, in collaboration with colleagues across the collections departments, meets its responsibilities for the assessment, preservation and conservation of the collection and research into the material and technical aspects of objects and their environment.

His research interests are centred in two main areas. The first is in the scientific examination of objects, principally using non-destructive imaging and spectroscopic methods. He has been involved in projects to develop and employ imaging systems that record two- and three-dimensional information about the surface of objects and to construct and apply systems that can record sub-surface information, including a high-resolution digital infrared camera now used at the Museum. Recently, he was a co-investigator in a project to investigate the application of optical coherence tomography to the examination of museum objects, supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

A second area of research is the effect of the environment on the deterioration of objects, with a particular focus on the effect of light on pigments and dyes. This is coupled with research into preventive conservation issues, especially practical methods of reducing damage to the collections by light and ultraviolet radiation. In this context, he has been involved in the production of UK and International norms and guidelines for museum lighting.

He also instigated and now edits the annually-produced British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, which publishes research conducted at the Museum into the conservation, technical examination and analysis of the collection.

Outside the department, he is a member of the International Strategy Group, The Internal Controls Committee and the Steering Group for the new World Conservation and Exhibition Centre, which will be the home for the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research from late 2013.

Current projects

The study of ancient polychromy

Late eighteenth century processes for the mechanical replication of paintings

The effect of different light sources, particularly LED lamps, on the light-induced deterioration of pigments and dyes

Previous projects

A study of the effect of light on the preservation of bank notes

The application of Optical Coherence Tomography to the examination of museum objects

External fellowships/ honorary positions/ membership of professional bodies

Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC)

Member of the IIC Council

Member of the International Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation, (ICOM-CC)

Member of the Institute of Conservation, (ICON)

Member of the Board of Studies for the Wall Paintings Conservation MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art

Member of the National Gallery Scientific Consultative Group

Member of the Science and Research Advisory Committee for the Department of Culture Media and Sport

Recent publications

G. Verri, D. Saunders, J. Ambers and T. Sweek, ‘Digital mapping of Egyptian blue: conservation implications’, in Conservation and the Eastern Mediterranean, ed. C. Rozeik, A. Roy and D. Saunders, International Institute for Conservation, London (2010)

J. Ambers, C. Higgitt and D. Saunders (eds), Italian Renaissance Drawings: technical examination and analysis, Archetype Publications, London (2010)

J. Ambers, C. Higgitt, L. Harrison and D. Saunders (eds), Holding it all Together: Ancient and Modern Approaches to Joining, Repair and Consolidation, Archetype Publications, London (2009)

M. Spring, H. Liang, B. Peric, D. Saunders and A.Podoleanu, ‘Optical coherence tomography – a tool for high resolution non-invasive 3D-imaging of the subsurface structure of paintings’, in ICOM Committee for Conservation, 15th Triennial Meeting, New Delhi (2008) 633–640

D. Saunders, J.H. Townsend, and S. Woodcock (eds), Conservation and Access, International Institute for Conservation, London (2008)

C. Richardson and D. Saunders, ‘Acceptable light damage: a preliminary investigation’ Studies in Conservation 52 (2007) 177–187

Other key publications

D. Saunders, ‘Investigation of Pigment-Medium Interaction Processes in Oil Paint containing Degraded Smalt’, with M. Spring and C. Higgitt, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, 26 (2005), pp. 56–69

D. Saunders, ‘The effect of painting orientation during air transportation’, in ICOM Committee for Conservation, 14th Triennial Meeting, The Hague, I. Verger (ed.), (London, James & James, 2005), pp. 700–707

D. Saunders, ‘Recent applications of digital imaging in painting conservation: transportation, colour change and infrared reflectographic studies’, with A. Burmester, J. Cupitt and L. Raffelt, in Tradition and Innovation: Advances in Conservation, A. Roy, and P. Smith (eds.), (London, International Institute for Conservation, 2000), pp. 170–176

D. Saunders, ‘Wavelength-dependent fading of artists’ pigments’, with J. Kirby, in Preventive Conservation: Practice, Theory and Research, A. Roy, and P. Smith (eds.), (London, International Institute for Conservation, 1994), pp. 190–194

D. Saunders, ‘Light-induced colour changes in red and yellow lake pigments’, with J. Kirby, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, 15 (1994), pp. 79–97