Proactively Protecting Your Collected Paintings
Whether they are decorative pieces or appreciative investments (or both), fine works of art can hold a tremendous amount of meaning. The decision regarding how and where to display items in your home is a personal and conscientious one, but as you make these decisions, it is important to identify and consider the many factors that could lead to a loss.
All paintings—including oils, acrylics, pastels and other mediums atop canvas, wood, board or paper—require special care and consideration.
When having paintings installed in your home, framed pieces should be hung from two level mounting points on the reverse of the frame and should be attached to two equally solid wall mountings. Experts advise the use of mirror plates or d-ring hangers rather than screw eyes, individual nails or adhesive strip kits, which are more likely to fail. If the piece is small or lightweight, however, a double width of twisted picture wire can be paired with the d-rings instead. A piece of cardboard or other backing board can also be attached to the reverse of the piece to act as a protective buffer between the frame and the wall.
If the piece hangs in a high-traffic area or in a space where significant vibrations could be a factor (near loud stereo systems, televisions or where children play), or if you live in an earthquake zone, consider taking further measures to reinforce the piece.
The time of installation is also a good opportunity to arm your piece with anti-theft technology such as the Art Guard MAP System. PURE members are eligible for a discount on this system; contact a PURE Member Advocate® for more information.
You may want to take a few photos of the reverse of the piece before hanging it, as many examples bear personal artist inscriptions, dates, museum labels or other information that you might wish to recall in the future without having to dismount it.
Best practices followed by museums can certainly be applied in the home, especially when it comes to lighting your paintings and other works. Proper lighting is crucial, not only to present viewers with a more engaging and detailed experience, but also to protect the piece. Many types of bulbs generate too much heat, which can adversely alter the chemical compounds of the paint and necessitate further and sometimes costly conservation.
A lighting designer experienced in displaying fine art can assist you in selecting the best options for your pieces. As a rule of thumb, however, strong incandescent or halogen lights should be replaced with softer LED alternatives. These not only last longer, but are more energy efficient as well. Additionally, recessed or spot-positioned track LED lighting should be placed at a safe distance from the surface of a piece. Lighting should generally not be affixed to the top of a frame, as it will radiate too much light and heat on a single concentrated spot on the canvas.
The amount of natural sunlight allowed to enter your home should also be considered, as ultraviolet rays can damage paintings and other works. Anything on display in a south-facing room or in a bright area requires extra defense by protective glass or heavy room darkening or blackout window treatments.
If your home is equipped with a sprinkler system, it is important to make sure that no works of art reside directly underneath a sprinkler head. This will help prevent water damage in the case of a leak or false alarm. In addition, be sure your pieces are kept in stable temperature and humidity conditions. One curator from a well-known Washington, DC historic home recommends maintaining conditions of 70°F with a relative humidity of approximately 50%.
Water damage to a 19th century oil painting. Source: Julia Korner, Fine Art Specialist
Spaces in your home that might experience rapid fluctuations in temperature or humidity such as kitchens, bathrooms, spas or cigar lounges are less optimal for displaying your treasured pieces. Other regional threats such as salt in the air or insects should be considered, as they can cause rips, small holes or even infestations.
Collectors in coastal areas or regions with excessive heat and humidity may wish to shorten the length of time for which pieces are displayed before rotating them out for safekeeping. Generally speaking, painted examples on canvas, wood, board and other denser surfaces can withstand longer periods of display than their pencil, pen and ink or pastel counterparts on paper, which are more susceptible to everyday and compounded risk factors because of the fragility of the material. More fragile works on paper may require more extreme rotation: Ms. Leslie B. Jones, Director of Museum Affairs and Curator of Decorative Arts at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum in Nashville, TN states, “…[I]f for example, a pastel work [on paper] is a hopeful inclusion (in an upcoming exhibition), we assess the last time it was recorded as being on view and observe its current condition; if it has been exhibited within the last three years we will most likely decide not to include it in the final installation.”
Temperature-control devices like wood-burning or gas fireplaces and heat or air conditioning vents can also expose artwork to pollutants such as dust and soot. Pollutants can be easily redirected away from a piece with the help of fire screens and inexpensive vent deflectors. These are often made from clear plastic in order to fulfill a true necessity while not detracting from the overall aesthetic of a space.
If a light surface-cleaning is absolutely necessary, ensure anyone responsible for cleaning your home understands how to do so safely.
The piece should first be inspected for areas where the paint is lifting away from the surface of the canvas. A flashlight can help identify any cracks (referred to as craquelure) that could potentially peel, chip or flake away if touched with a finger or brush.
Visible craquelure flecks on the Mona Lisa. Source: Artwatch UK
If the piece is intact, an extremely soft, clean and dry brush can be used to lightly sweep the piece in a top-down motion. Brushes should be kept in their own bag and for the sole purpose of cleaning your artwork. Although tempting, refrain from the use of harsh abrasives like waxes, polishes or oils—or even tools like feather dusters, cotton balls or rags, which could catch on any raised flecks of paint and remove them from the surface of the painting.
If the protective glass encasing a piece needs to be cleaned, be very careful: spraying any sort of liquid directly on the glass could allow the cleaner to seep down and soak into the painted surface. Instead, a watered-down cleaning agent should be sprayed onto a rag, which can then be used to wipe the glass in a top-down motion.
Of course, if a piece requires a more extensive cleaning after years of exposure to elements such as UV rays, second-hand smoke, dust and other pollutants, seek the advice of a trusted and reputable conservator who specializes in whatever type of artwork requires attention.
If you would like assistance finding, hiring and coordinating with an art professional, our PURE Member Advocates® can connect you with high-quality vendors in your area and schedule an appointment at your convenience. Call 888.813.PURE (7873) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.