How to protect oil paintings from fading

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While a majority of the world’s artistic masterpieces have been created with oil paints, the fading of their color is often a great concern! No wonder that museums, galleries and exhibition halls are equipped with special climate controlled rooms that are monitored by well-trained staff.

But worry no more, painting aficionados! It is still possible to protect oil painting at home without the hassle of maintaining special rooms or seeking help of professionals.

While you can surely turn up to Qualitative reproductions online for the well-restored color, here’s our detailed guide that help cherish your much loved piece of oil paintings with a set of pro tips:

What causes the discoloration of Oil Paintings?

Direct Access to Heat

The fading and deterioration of oil paintings generally starts at the surface level after continued exposure to heat. This includes direct access to sunlight from a window, or close contact to the other sources of heat like a fireplace, electric heaters etc.

Exposure to Oil Painting in Direct Sunlight

Did you know that the most significant reason why oil paintings fade is the prolonged exposure to sunlight? Yes, the same UV rays that are dangerous for human skin can result in the fading away of the oil painting over the time. In fact, the paintings placed outdoors in contact with the direct, unfiltered sunlight are at an additional risk of damage because of ultraviolet UV radiations that dampen the intricate details of the oil paints used in the painting.

Filtered Sunlight if not more is equally disastrous

While a majority of oil paintings are stored indoors, they are still at a risk due to exposure to the filtered sunlight— that is deemed less harmful than direct sunlight but equally damaging as it may cause some specific colors of oil paint. Even worse, it can also cause varnish to darken.

Lightfastness of Pigments Matters

Did you know that some colors of the oil painting tend to fade quicker than others? Yes, you read it right. This is because some color pigments are naturally more lightfast than others, and that’s why you’ll see each tube of paint labeled with a lightfast grade.

While the paintings with the grade I or II are recognized as archival quality, they do not fade easily if the painting is properly cared for. Paintings labeled with higher lightfastness grades, on the contrary, are more prone to fading and some paints.

Is your Oil Painting properly varnished?  

A clear protective coating that is put onto the painting once the paint has dried; Varnish plays a significant role in both protecting it from light and dirt, and prolonging its overall life! However, if the varnish is applied improperly, it can quickly result in the painting becoming discolored over time.

Did you know? It takes an oil painting somewhere between a few months to a year to dry completely. Some artists often tend to varnish oil painting too soon, due to which varnish merges quickly with the paint and cannot be banished without affecting the painting. As a result, oil paintings can become dull and faded with time and there is only a little one could do to restore them.

How to prevent the Fading of Oil Paintings?

  • As discoloration of the oil paints is most likely to be the adverse effect of prolonged exposure to heat, and sunlight, one must avoid extremes heat, humidity and dryness, such as directly under over radiators, air conditioners, humidifier misters, heating vents, and especially over the hot and burning fireplaces. Also, try to avoid unvented bathrooms and extensivelyused kitchens and unvented bathrooms.
  • To keep painting safe, place it in open spaces with good air flow, as it allows the artwork to breathe. A closed or a damp space, on the other hand, leads to poor air flow and buildup of moisture behind the paintings, which can result in formation of mold that invites insects, rot and discoloration. 
  • While there’s no arguing the quotation that ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’, dusting and cleaning your artworks periodically using a soft feathered duster, can actually increase the life of your favorite oil painting. And in case, it is left undusted for a long time, not only the appearance of the artwork be clouded but the dust can stick to the oil paints, which may require professional cleaning.

    Pro Tip: While it is recommended to get the oil paintings cleaned periodically by a professional, use ONLY lightly moistened cotton in lukewarm water and GENTLY dab the paint surface.
  • Last but not least, to protect oil painting and isolate the paint surface from dirt, dust, soot, and carbon monoxide and UV light, it is highly recommended to apply a coating of final varnish! Even better, a varnish can also offer a more uniform texture to the entire oil portrait by neutralizing transitions from glossy and matte areas that come about in the painting process.
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