How To: The Proper Conservation and Preservation of Paintings

A painting typically constitutes an oil or acrylic medium
applied to a surface in a stylistic and artistic manner. Throughout history,
artists have applied these mediums to a variety of support materials, the most
popular being wood, metal sheets, various boards and canvases. These support
materials are often prepped with varnishes and paints and once the painting is
done, artists sometimes ‘finish’ the pieces with varnish or other chemicals. As
a result, a painting constitutes many materials that react to the environment
and each other in different ways.

There are many types of damage to paintings. Typically
damage takes the appearance of cracks, rips and tears in the paintings surface,
frame or base. Parts of the painting can be distorted, discolored, faded or
weakened by environmental damage. Paintings can also warp over time, so that
the surface appears rippled or twists, adding strain and pressure to the piece.
Wooden frames or structures are also susceptible from bugs such as termites.

Storage or Display:
Ignoring aesthetic choices, the placement of a painting is important. The
owner must take into consideration certain factors such as, fluctuating
temperatures, and the possibility of constant physical contact with
individuals, objects or pets, fluctuating humilities and presence of sunlight.
If possible, paintings should be displayed securely on walls that can provide
insulation. They should also be displayed high enough for individuals to view
them comfortably, without being low enough for children or pets to touch.

Avoid storing paintings in basements or attics, as
temperatures fluctuate drastically in those areas, and are prone to moisture.
Inspect paintings regularly, and if placed on racks, ensure that the racks are
as flat as possible or grooves may appear on the surface or frame, depreciating
its aesthetic and monetary value.

Shipping or Handling:
Improper handling is easily, one of the major causes of
damage to artworks. Before handling or moving a painting, it is recommended
that the movers do a cursory check over to make sure that no part of the
painting is sticking out, dislodged and to note the current damage on the
piece. Try to move painting as little as possible, especially in-between
environments of hot to cold, or cool to cold air. These changes in humidity are
the fastest way to create cracks in acrylic or oil paint. When deemed necessary
to move a painting, avoid touching the paint surface or the back of the canvas.
The pressure can also encourage cracks. It is highly recommended that all
paintings be wrapped or packaged prior to movement. Make sure that the
packaging is moisture and water resistant, sealed against humidity, dent
resistant and cushioned and insulated.

Not just an aesthetic choice, framing is an important part of a painting. If
possible and structurally sound, keep the original frame of the painting. If
the frame is deteriorating however, take the painting to professional framers.
If not done properly, the frame will do more harm than good to the piece.

Other Resources:
Owners should not try to clean paintings themselves, always
leave that to professional art cleaners or conservators. If living in a
particularly dusty area, lights dusting with acid-free cloths are permissible,
but owners need to be wary of applying pressure.

Works Cited

CCI. “CCI: How to Care For – Works of Art on Paper.” Welcome Page | Page D’accueil. Canadian Conservation Institute. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.