How to Store Paintings to Protect Their Beauty

Published September 24, 2020
man looking at painting

If you collect art, knowing how to store paintings will help you preserve the beauty of the artwork you love. You can avoid serious mistakes that can affect the condition and value of paintings by following a few simple guidelines.

Avoid Touching a Painting With Your Bare Hands

Any painting, whether it is oil, watercolor, acrylic, or something else, is vulnerable to damage from the oils on your hands. As you prepare your painting for storage, wear cotton gloves and try to avoid directly touching the painting as much as you can. This includes the back of painted canvases.

Use Tape for Paintings Framed Behind Glass

If your painting is in a frame with glass, there are special considerations. Whether you're keeping your art in a safe place for a few years or you need to store paintings long term, it's import to prevent the glass from breaking and scratching the surface of the painting. Use painters' tape or glass tape to criss-cross the surface of the glass without actually taping the frame itself. That way, if something happens to break the glass, it won't fall into the painting.

Wrap Canvases and Framed Paintings in Acid-Free Tissue

Although some people wrap paintings in plastic wrap, this can trap moisture against the painting and cause mold. Instead, gently wrap your painting in acid-free tissue paper to create a protective layer. You can tape the sheets of tissue together.

Use Archival Cardboard and Padding

When storing framed paintings or unframed canvases, add a layer of protection after the tissue paper by using acid-free cardboard. Also known as museum board, this cardboard is rigid and offers protection but does not introduce harmful acids. Crescent is one brand that makes this type of cardboard. Then wrap the painting in breathable paddings, such as a moving blanket, or use corner padding to protect the frame inside a box. This is especially important with antique picture frames.

Layer Unframed Paintings With Acid-Free Tissue Paper

Unframed paintings have less protection than their framed counterparts, and they need special care. The Smithsonian recommends using layers of acid-free tissue paper between paintings when storing them in a folio or box. The box or folio should also be acid-free to preserve the beauty of the stored paintings.

Keep Storage as Dark as Possible for Most Paintings

While art is best displayed in good light, it's generally better to store it in the dark, according to the Smithsonian Institute. Exposure to light can fade sensitive pigments and accelerate the aging process. This means storing paintings in light-tight wrappings or dark storage rooms.

Know How to Store Oil Paintings in the Light

Even though most paintings are better stored in the dark, oil paintings are an exception, according to Gamblin. Oil paints can change color when stored in the dark, and exposure to light is good for the binder. If you can store these paintings where they will receive even natural light, that is ideal. However, you can also rotate oil paintings in and out of display to give them the light exposure they need to maintain their color.

Store Paintings Near Room Temperature

Fluctuations in temperature can harm paintings, and the Smithsonian recommends storing them between 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While your storage location might get a little outside this range seasonally depending on where you live, try to stay as close as you can. The biggest danger is dramatic fluctuations in temperature, since paint can crack or flake as the substrate expands or contracts with the temperature change.

Maintain Proper Humidity

According to the Smithsonian, the ideal humidity for storing art is 45% to 55% with minimal fluctuation. If you're selecting a storage facility, choose one that maintains the proper humidity. Otherwise, do your best to keep things in this range at home. Many homes are naturally between 40% and 50%, so you may need to add a humidifier to your storage area to keep the humidity ideal for your art.

Store Unframed Paintings Horizontally and Framed Paintings Vertically

Unframed paintings, which are stacked in archival boxes, should be stored horizontally to keep the paper from bending with gravity. Framed paintings and paintings on canvas were designed to be hung on the wall. They should be stored upright because they are less vulnerable to damage from something falling on them or being stacked on them.

Learning How to Store Paintings Brings Peace of Mind

Now that you know how to store paintings long-term or just for a few months, take some time to make sure your art collection is properly insured. Get an appraisal and talk to your insurance agent about special considerations for storing any valuable pieces. You'll have better peace of mind knowing you have properly stored and protected your treasures.

How to Store Paintings to Protect Their Beauty