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Preserving Paintings

Preservation of paintings is as important to the art aficionados as selecting and buying paintings. From the moment the first brush stroke is applied on the canvas a painting begins to change and weather. Natural ageing, warmth, humidity are some of the causes for the change, all this is enough reason to pay some attention to Preserving Paintings. Paintings after all are objects of great beauty and are of historical importance, they provide us with an important cultural link with the past. They have great monetary value or have sentimental value to their owners.

Paintings consist of various layers. The paint is applied on a canvas or wood, which is first coated with a base layer. Traditionally paintings are finished with a coat of varnish. Contemporary paintings and folk art may not have a ground layer or varnish coating. Paintings that do not have all of the traditional layers are naturally more fragile and susceptible to change or damage.

Different styles of paintings need different kind of care. An oil painting will obviously need to be kept in rooms with specific temperatures while watercolors are sensitive to humidity. One has to keep all these things in mind to be a proper curator.

Preservation of Oil Paintings

oil paintingcan be preserved for years and delight us with their colors and forms if they are properly taken care of. The first step in the preservation of all artwork is, to identify and eliminate the causes of damage. For prevention is always better than cure. One needs to foresee the possible damages, only then will he or she try to take proactive steps to prevent those damages. Once the possible causes are identified one need to only follow proper guidelines in order to prevent them.

Causes for damage of Oil Paintings

The most common cause for damage of oil paintings is the improper storage and display of these paintings. When one says display one means display or storage in areas where there is excessive exposure to light, high and fluctuating temperature and humidity levels, dirt or insects . Excessive lights can cause the painting colors to fade or darken. Some paintings are so badly darkened or faded at times that it's impossible to see the detail of these paintings any longer.

  • Extreme and fluctuating temperatures can cause damage because of the contraction and expansion of the wooden base or the fabrics of the paintings. The wood components absorb moisture so humidity is also a big problem.

  • Dirt and dust on the painting surfaces is an ungainly sight indeed. These dirt patches also act as a hotbed for molds.

  • Improper cleaning of these paintings by untrained workers causes much damage.

  • Insects like carpet beetle cause much damage to Oil Paintings.

  • Careless hanging of this paintings also manage to cause permanent damage to these paintings.

Guidelines for Preservation of Oil Paintings

One needs to display paintings in dimly lit areas, away from direct sunlight, to avoid light damage. The suggested light level for paintings is 200 lux.

To avoid damage from fluctuating temperature and humidity level, it should be ensured that these paintings are kept in temperature-regulated rooms. The acceptable temperature and humidity levels for oil paintings are as follows

In winter the ideal temperature is between 65 to 70 degrees F and the accepted Relative humidity is 40%-45%.

In summer the ideal temperature is between 70 to 75 degrees F and the accepted Relative humidity is 45%-55%.

Paintings should be carefully dusted and be kept in non-smoking zones to avoid mold formation and nicotine deposits.

To avoid damages from improper cleaning proper precautions should be taken, soft brushes should be used to remove dust from the paintings. Only trained conservators should handle them. One should be careful not to brush off paint chips while cleaning the paintings. The back of the painting should be kept clean by brushing or vacuuming. In order to clean the back, the painting should be removed from its picture frame and placed face down on a clean surface.

To avoid insect infestation, the paintings should be routinely examined and kept in a plastic bag and examined, if found to be infested.

Paintings should always be carefully hung and displayed so as to avoid any accidents.

Preservation of Watercolors

Watercolors are inherently sensitive works of art. However they can be cherished for years only if a few simple precautions are taken. The precautions are pretty much the same as that of Oil Paintings but certain problems are different.

Causes for Damage of Watercolors

  • Works on paper are extremely fragile pieces of art; they should be very carefully touched. Since paper itself is such a fragile material, paintings on paper are always at the risk of being damaged by rough touch.

  • Paper is sensitive to the environment too. Prolonged exposure to acidic surroundings causes permanent damages to the Watercolors.

  • Improper framing of watercolors cause much damage because sometimes the paintings are at the risk of being damaged in the process of framing.

  • Unframed works are constantly at the risk of being damaged.

  • Harsh and bright lights cause much damage to watercolors. It embrittles the paper and causes the painting to fade. Damage caused by light is irreversible.

  • High and fluctuating temperatures and humidity deteriorates the paper. The paper absorbs the water content from the air and damp patches are formed.

  • Air borne pollutants and harmful gases cause much harm to watercolors. Dust and soot are quite difficult to remove from paper. Harmful gases, auto emissions, and heating compounds are readily absorbed into paper, where they form harmful chemicals that discolor or embrittle. In addition, sources of internal air pollution, such as photocopiers, new construction materials, paint fumes, janitorial supplies, and emissions from wooden cabinets, also harm paper.

  • Leaky roof and water accidents are disasters for watercolors. They cause permanent and irreversible damage to these paintings

    Guidelines for Preserving Paintings-Watercolors

  • All the above stated damages can be easily avoided if we follow some simple guidelines.

  • Watercolors should be very carefully touched and one should wear proper clean gloves before touching them.

  • To avoid exposure to acidic surroundings watercolors and other paintings on paper should be properly stored. All the mounting adhesives and frames that are used on these paintings should be chemically stable.

  • Paintings should be properly framed using only conservator recommended devices. The glazing too is important. The paperwork should never be in direct contact of the glazing material (glass). Only best quality ultra violet resistant glass should be used.

  • Unframed watercolors should be kept in proper protective enclosures. Matting of these works is highly recommended. They should be stored in special boxes.

  • To avoid damage from light, they should be kept in dimly lit surroundings, and direct daylight should be avoided at any cost. UV free lightings should be used.

  • These paintings should be kept in temperature and humidity regulated rooms; the temperature and relative humidity (RH) should not exceed 70 degree F and 60%, respectively. The temperature and RH should also remain constant and not fluctuate.

  • Avoiding harmful gases and pollutants always proves to be a difficult task, the only way to protect paintings from them is to keep them in rooms that are strictly sealed and regulated. Keeping them away from polluted areas and construction areas is also a good idea.

  • If water accidents happen then one should carefully try to dry the watercolors before molds set in. sometimes freezing is a good alternative.

    Conservation and preservation of other artworks

  • The above-mentioned precautions are applicable for almost all kinds of Paintings. Some artworks are sturdy enough to withstand all kinds of weathering ( Pottery Paintings ) and some are extremely fragile (Watercolors). But it is important to try and preserve our artwork for they are the reflections of our times.

  • Though the prescribed precautions are safe to be followed, it's always advisable to contact art conservators for all queries about Preserving Paintings.

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