Having a fabulous painting or original masterpiece on your walls brings inexplicable joy. But handling it appropriately is crucial, if it is to retain its beauty and stay unharmed for life.

Leading art conservator S.Girikumar, who visited Chennai to deliver a lecture at Apparao Galleries, shared some vital tips with Hema Vijay

How can we ensure that paintings don’t fade?

Avoid prolonged exposure to light, especially light that’s high in ultraviolet content, like sunlight, fluorescent lamps or halogen spotlights, which could fade or alter the colours of the painting.

What kind of artificial lighting best suits paintings?

Incandescent lights are better than fluorescent or LED lamps for proper rendering. In incandescent lamps, halogens give the best results, even though they emit more Ultra Violet (UV) radiation and heat. These can be overcome by using bulbs made of doped quartz and ensuring sufficient ventilation in the display areas. It is also better to use diffused ambient lighting rather than direct spot lighting. This way, most of the UV and heat rays from the light source are prevented from reaching the painting.

Can paintings be exposed to direct sunlight?

Prolonged exposure to sunlight is not recommended for any painting. However, if there is a fungal attack on the painting, a short exposure, not longer than half an hour, will help in drying the painting and deactivating the existing fungus.

What is the atmospheric humidity that paintings can tolerate?

Relative Humidity (RH) between 40 and 60 per cent is acceptable. Humidity below this level causes desiccation, which might lead to permanent deformation in the painting structure. Anything above 60 per cent in an enclosed area can encourage the growth of fungus. Also, there should not be any abrupt variations in RH within a short duration of time.

What effect does air-conditioning and the draft from ceiling fans have on paintings?

Air-conditioners meant for human comfort are not very suitable for paintings. Also, they are frequently switched on and off, which causes sudden variations in temperature and humidity levels. These variations within a span of a few hours can lead to cracking and flaking of the paint layer, and fungal and other microbial growth. If at all one decides to air-condition the display area, it must be run round-the-clock and the air-conditioner used must have the facility to monitor and control both relative humidity and temperature. If the canvas is not stretched taut, the draft from ceiling fans can cause violent vibrations in the painting, resulting in cracking and flaking.

Should paintings be cleaning periodically?

Very often, paintings left alone have a better chance of survival. If at all you feel that they need cleaning, dust with a soft brush once or twice a year.

What are some common mistakes that damage paintings?

Mistakes include a lack of ventilation in the display and storage areas; storing paintings by wrapping them in polythene sheets; displays without leaving a space between the painting and the wall, which leads to trapping of moisture and fungal growth; display on damp walls; frequent dusting or cleaning with wet cloth; and finally, do-It-yourself restoration measures without adequate knowledge.