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How to Take Care of Paintings and Artwork

The best procedure for preserving a painting or drawing depends on the materials used in making it. For valuable work it is best to consult an expert. However, here are some guidelines on caring for your artwork:

DON'T hang original paintings in a conservatory or near large windows. Fading can occur in only a short time from exposure to the ultra-violet rays in direct or bright sunlight and the fluctuations of temperature will also be detrimental. Hang a decorative art reproduction or perhaps a mosaic or a bas relief instead.

DON'T hang a valued painting above a radiator or other heat source, especially over a fireplace. Heat and convected dust can cause damage. Aim for a steady, moderate climate for your artwork and avoid storing it in an unheated attic or a basement, even if it is wrapped.

DON'T hang a painting where it will be exposed to moisture such as a kitchen, bathroom or on an exterior wall without adequate insulation or damp-proofing. Likewise, newly-plastered walls should be allowed to dry out thoroughly before hanging your pictures.

DON'T apply household cleaner to a painting. Oil or acrylic paintings may be given gentle dusting with a lint-free cloth. Most modern varnishes are removable. Seek expert advice before attempting this.

DO leave a small gap between wall and painting to allow air flow using two small sections of cork behind the bottom edge of the picture frame.

DO aim to maintain a constant room temperature and use a humidifier when appropriate to control the moisture level.

DO keep paintings on canvas taut on their stretcher bars, without ripples. If necessary, have the painting re-keyed occasionally to take up slack if the canvas may slackens over time but do not over-tighten. If the frame is too snug to allow the canvas to expand it may need to be modified by a framer.

DO use glass to protect artwork in charcoal and pastel, pencil, watercolour, and prints on paper. Acrylic, styrene and other plastic glazing materials carry an electrostatic charge which can draw particles of pastel or charcoal pigment off the paper onto the inner surface of the glazing. For watercolours, which are prone to sun-bleaching, it is a good idea to have anti-UV glass fitted.

DO insist that your framer uses only overlay mats, backing boards and adhesives which are acid-free and archival in quality, otherwise staining, foxing and embrittlement can occur over time. All procedures used for work of value should be reversible.

DO retain information on materials and processes used if you have the painting professionally cleaned and/or restored. It is also a good idea to keep receipts and exhibition lists relating to your painting's provenance and these details are better kept in a home file rather than attached to the back of the frame should you be unfortunate enough to have your painting stolen.


Tony Robinson, Pigyard Art Gallery Ireland - copyright 2006

Tony is owner of Pigyard Gallery, a highly respected art gallery in Wexford, Ireland. He is also an expert framer, commended by the Fine Art Trade Guild.

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