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How To Maintain and Conserve Paintings
Maintenance and control of storage conditions slow down the material deterioration of paintings, painted objects, and other art objects. The decline is faster than expected, certainly without maintenance and/or under poor conditions.
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You can dust paintings every four to six months, but after a thorough inspection of your paintings for loose or flaking paint. Feather brushes scratch paintings and frames, use a soft and clean make-up brush instead. Never attempt to clean a painting yourself or use cleaning agents on a painted surface. Products that are on the market can cause irreparable damage to the vulnerable paint layers. Cleaning paintings with potatoes, onions, breadcrumbs, vinegar, or soap is very bad for varnish and paint layers. Avoid using water, pesticides, nebulizers, air fresheners, or furniture sprays near the artwork. Remove paintings from the room before painting, plastering, or steaming wallpaper. Do not hang the paintings back until the walls and floors are completely dry.
The preservation conditions of paintings are, to a certain extent, quite manageable. In terms of temperature and humidity, paintings generally like an environment that people also feel comfortable in. Avoid unusually high or low humidity and temperature to prevent the wood from warping, cracking, or breaking. Small fluctuations are less harmful than large fluctuations in environmental characteristics.
A painting is vulnerable because it is composed of different materials and raw materials that all react differently to each other and to environmental factors such as light, moisture, heat, etc. The choice of raw materials, the method of manufacturing these materials into supports, primers, paints, and varnishes, and the way they are processed determine the extent to which a painting contributes to its deterioration.
Guidelines for light, humidity, and temperature
The following guidelines are the optimal conditions, in many situations, these are not feasible. They give an indication, you can have it measured whether the circumstances deviate too far for you. If you use measuring equipment to measure the relative humidity yourself, have it calibrated regularly.
Light and illumination
For ordinary, visible light, a maximum of 150 Lux applies when lighting for 8 hours a day. This value then applies to the Ultraviolet light (UV light) 70 microWatt Lumen. This value is a cumulative calculation; with fewer light hours, a higher value can be applied. Most organic pigments are sensitive to light, for these paintings a value of 50 Lux and UV 70 mW lumens applies. Avoid direct sunlight. When lighting paintings, choose low-UV lamps. LED lamps and incandescent lamps are UV-poor lamps. Low UV versions of fluorescent tubes, energy-saving lamps, and halogen lamps are for sale. Too much ordinary light and UV light from outside can be avoided by means of curtains and filters (UV light-resistant foils and sheet materials).
A relative humidity fluctuation of 10% (daily or annual) around a relative humidity of 45% or 55% gives a low risk of mechanical damage for almost all organic objects (Bart Ankersmit – Climate Work 2009 – ISBN 978 8555 025 9). Try to avoid condensation of moisture on artworks. Paintings hanging on walls that are colder than the temperature of the room are affected. This can be prevented by providing the painting with rear protection and by using blocks to enlarge the space between the wall and the painting so that the airflow along the wall can continue unimpeded.
The temperature should be around 18ºC and fluctuations should be limited as much as possible. Fluctuations in temperature affect the humidity. Infrared light (heat) such as in sunlight should be avoided. The temperature affects objects; it can expand and contract materials. If humidifiers and dehumidifiers are not used, changes in temperature can cause the relative humidity to rise and fall. This property of the temperature can cause damage to objects. It is therefore important to keep the temperature constant. A good temperature is around 18ºC, but if that means for a room (eg a cellar) that the relative humidity is hardly controllable, it is wise to adjust the temperature in such a way that the relative humidity becomes controllable.
A microclimate is created when a painting is packed airtight, for example in plastic. A bad situation arises when the temperature inside the packaging drops or rises, this causes a change in the humidity. For example, when the temperature drops, the percentage of relative humidity can rise to a level that could cause mold growth.
A framing offers protection to a painting, but a bad framing can cause damage, see examples. For example, a wooden panel that is framed too tightly can break if it wants to expand and contract due to fluctuating humidity. If you want to buy a new frame for a painting or have a painting treated by a conservator, have it framed by an expert immediately. The salts of fingerprints on a gold leaf or silver-plated frame can cause permanent dark spots due to an etching effect.
The hanging system for the painting and the hanging system near the wall must be sufficiently strong. Wall systems come in many shapes and sizes. When purchasing systems with a rail and suspension wire, for example, make sure that the loadable weight is largely exceeded, the loadable weight is usually stated on the packaging. Hang paintings on two wires or hooks as much as possible. In systems with a perlon cord, the hook must be firmly attached to the cord, heat can cause the hook to slip.