ART GUIDE - Care of Painting

art guide

Works on canvas/board

Apart from natural calamities, intrinsic composition and insects, we humans rank highest in causing damage to an artwork. Surprised? Here is a brief look at some of the most likely damage


  • Breakages or tears in the surface, loose or missing parts of the surface or medium, impact related damage, smudges to the medium.

  • Stains from contact (including fingerprints), food materials, smoke, cosmetics and other domestic chemicals like cleaners.

  • Presence of conditions that foster pests, or other environmental damage like contact with infested objects, poor storage, and exposure to excessive heat, humidity and direct light.


Whether the move is from one wall to another, or between locations:

  • Always consider the best way to remove the artwork and get additional help if required especially for larger pieces

  • Prepare the final destination of the move before hand

  • Always wear gloves

  • Make sure that there is enough space to move around

  • Use equipment with care, even seemingly harmless pens

  • Ensure that the artwork is properly packed, use quality material

  • Use corners to avoid frames from getting damaged

  • It is not advisable to leave works packed for too long



Some basic checks for the display wall

  • Ensure that the wall is not damp

  • Also check that there is no direct sunlight falling on the wall


  • There should be some breathing space between the artwork and the wall, this will prevent the accumulation of dirt and moisture. This can be achieved by placing blocks on all four sides

  • Ensure that the fittings of the frame are sturdy and will hold for a prolonged period of time


The most basic rule with lighting an artwork is to avoid displaying the artwork in direct sunlight. Exposure to strong artificial light for extended period is also not advisable as fixed lights over an artwork may cause localized heating. Lights should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the artwork to avoid this. The recommended lighting for paintings is 200 lux. Light levels can be measured using a camera's light meter.


Some simple cleaning tips that can be followed at home
Like other objects, artworks will collect dust and dirt over time. Dust can be removed using a very soft brush. Avoid feather and sheep skin dusters as their fibers attach to the surface. Check for flaking paint before dusting, and do not attempt to dust if the surface appears damaged ot unstable. It is also important to clean the verso of the artwork in a similar manner; however the artwork should be removed from display and laid flat on a clean surface to do this. Do not attempt any repair yourself. This is a process that should only be carried out by fully qualified, professional conservators.


An artwork on canvas comprises of the following

  • The support frame on which the canvas is stretched, which is known as the stretcher and usually made of wood. If the canvas is of a larger size then the square stretcher should also have center supports

  • The frame around the painting, traditionally made of wood and available in a variety of finishes. However, of late, fiber frames simulating wood finishes are also available. Since they are not of organic material they are less susceptible to attacks from natural elements and pests.



A stable storage environment is very important, and fluctuations in temperature and humidity, particularly in the short term, must be minimised. The best environment for the storage of artworks is a cool, dry one with good air circulation. Always seek professional advice for other storage requirements specific to your collection.


A lot of damage to paintings is caused by pests ranging from beetles and worms to moths and sometimes even rodents. Make sure the space where you store your artworks is free of food sources for such pests. In many cases, the artwork will be the food source itself, and so monitoring the storage is also important. Generally, pests like dark, warm, humid, and undisturbed areas so regular inspection of packed art is a must.


The materials used to pack artworks for storage can affect their durability. The best materials are inert products that do not deteriorate over time. It is suggested that paintings on canvas be wrapped in unbleached muslin rather than plastic which will also allow the painting to breathe. Make sure to pack your artworks such that both physical damage and exposure to fluctuations of temperature and humidity are minimised.

Causes of Damage

If works of art are cared for correctly then one can minimize the external damage that can be caused to them. Some of the causes of such damage are:

  • Direct physical force, such as impact and wear and tear over time

  • Fire and excessive heat

  • Water damage from dampness, excessive moisture and leaks

  • Insects and other pests

  • Contaminants, such as smoke and other pollutants

  • Radiation from ultraviolet and infra-red light waves

  • Neglect

If these factors are limited effectively, damage to you artworks can be minimised.

Extreme Loosening & Flaking of Paint From a Canvas Support
fig 1. Extreme loosening and flaking of paint from a canvas support.
Detail of a Flaking Painting Before Treatment
fig 2. Detail of a flaking painting before treatment.
Painting After Treatment
fig 3. After Treatment

Expert Opinion

Kayan Marshall - Conservator of oil paintings

Services offered

  1. Interventive conservation treatments, both in-lab and on-site.

  2. Treatment proposals and estimates.

  3. Surveys and examinations of collections and individual objects.

  4. Consultation on mounting and framing.

  5. Consultation on preventive conservation.

  6. Conservation education services in the form of lectures and articles.

It is important to note that it is our intent not to in any way alter the originality of the object/painting. All methods used are reversible in keeping with the ethical code of the conservation profession.

Contact details

Kayan Marshall
Art Conservator/Restorer
Studio Name : L'Atelier
Meher Mansion, Ground floor
Lamington Road,
Below Tardeo Bridge
Mumbai 400 008
Studio : 309 8161 / 309 2360
Res : 369 3122 / 364 4793
Email : [email protected]