The Art of Conservation

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Many paintings have been around for hundreds of years and there are many paintings we would like to have around for hundreds of years. However, paintings are very delicate objects and they need to have the proper care or they will not stand the test of time. The conservation of paintings is a very important and precise ‘science’, so much so that there are people who dedicate their life to conserving works of art.

What can happen to a painting you ask? How many things can possibly go wrong with it? Many.

First of all, the canvas itself can become damaged. It can split at the edges or have a hole or rip in it. If it is painted on wood the wood can become warped and split. It is also susceptible to bugs such as word worms. Canvas may begin to sag or bulge in places. Now we come to the actual painting. Even if the foundation of the painting is solid, the paint may be fading or it may be chipping or fallen off already. The varnish on it may be discolored and it can also suffer from mold or mildew or be whitening.

Now, paintings are generally going to be in one of two places – in transport or hanging on a wall (they could also be in storage, but we are assuming that they are stored properly). The physical damage described above is generally caused during transport, unless it happens to get knocked off the wall somehow. Other than using the most extreme care possible when transporting a painting it is also wise to have the final location picked out and ready before you remove it from its existing location so that you do not have to put it down during transport and risk damaging it. When you do need to put it down, place it on a padded surface and lean it against a wall face out and away from furniture or other objects that it might bump against.

The painting itself is generally damaged by improper temperature and humidity levels. These two things have to be ideal for a painting or it can begin to show the signs of deterioration listed above. Have you ever wondered why the local art gallery is so cool? Well, they have to control the temperature and humidity in order to ensure the paintings do not get damaged. If you have paintings in your home you need to do the same. Ideally the temperature should be at most room temperature and the relative humidity should be at about 55%. Lighting should be low as high light tends to fade and discolor the paint faster. Also, dust can contain acid, which can damage the paint. Keep you hands off the painting and dust it with a soft brush (not feather or sheepskin).

Keep all these things in mind when hanging your painting. This means don’t hang it over the heater or right next to a window and keep your air conditioning on in the summer. In other words, think very carefully before you hang your painting and if the frame is damaged get it fixed or replaced as it can cause physical damage to the painting. So take care of your paintings and not only will you enjoy them for a lifetime, your children and their children will enjoy them as well.

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