We regularly receive artworks and fine furniture into our studios that are damaged due to where they are displayed or stored.
Understanding how the environment can impact artworks and fine furniture is important to minimise unnecessary damage as well as ensuring the long-term protection of important pieces.
Below are examples of environmental factors to consider.
If artworks and fine furniture are on display in direct sunlight this can cause fading and sun damage.
This type of damage will gradually occur and often noticed once it is too late. Works on paper such as watercolours, pastels and prints are most susceptible to fading and unfortunately little can be done in terms of restoration once this has happened.
It is advisable that artworks and fine furniture pieces are not displayed in direct sunlight. If this is unavoidable, then steps such as adding UV protection film to windows or ensuring blinds are drawn would help greatly.
For artworks that are glazed, there are options to upgrade the glass to UV standard (offering around 70% UV protection) or even better museum standard (around 99% UV protection). This is highly recommended for valuable artworks or those of great sentimental value.
All artworks, whether works on paper, oils or acrylics, are sensitive to damp environments. This is often not an obvious threat until it reaches a point where the damage is visible.
For works on paper, this can be in the form of foxing, cockling (rippled paper) or mould -all resulting in an unsightly appearance and continuing escalation of damage.
For oil paintings, damage can be in the form of blooming varnish (as identified with a white cloudy appearance), mould growth and deterioration to the paint layer.
Whenever mould appears, this needs professional restoration to have it safely and permanently eradicated. Simply wiping it away will spread the mould to a wider area.
We always advise that artworks should not be on display in damp environments. If this is not possible then art collectors should seek advice about how best to minimise harm. A range of 40-60% relative humidity is a good guide for displaying artwork.
Artworks are best displayed in a relatively stable temperature-controlled environment. Fluctuating temperatures should be avoided and be above freezing. If it fluctuates greatly and frequently, it can impact on artworks and fine furniture.
Similarly, if items have been displayed in rooms that have been at one temperature, and are then suddenly moved to a much warmer environment, this can lead to damage. For oil paintings, fluctuations in temperature can lead to cracking, flaking and unstable paint. For fine furniture, it may impact on joints, resulting in loose legs and breakages.
Leading on from heating, we have seen larger stately homes and country houses installing biomass heating systems. Traditionally rooms with artworks and fine furniture have been cool in temperature for a long period. With a new heating system, they are propelled into much higher temperatures. This sudden and significant change has seen some collections requiring extensive unforeseen restoration.
However, done correctly such as Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, it can reduce such risks. They have a collection of tapestries and paintings on undisturbed display for many years. This provided a challenge when looking to install biomass heating and so resulted in a special conservation heating system being fitted.
Completed in a controlled manner and understanding the risks and impacts that changes in heating could possibly raise, the installation has been successful with minimum disruption or damage to their collection.
It is important for art collectors to understand how the environment can affect important collections. This knowledge is key to minimising any avoidable damage and restoration requirements.