To Protect and Preserve: Caring for Your Fine Art

The fine art in your home—whether it’s a piece you’ve made a significant investment in or an inherited cherished work— makes up some of your most treasured assets, so it’s essential to take care of it all. We asked five scouted fine-art professionals to share their essential advice to ensure your art last for generations to come. To find a scouted art professional near you, browse The Scout Guide Directory.

Placement is paramount. When hanging art, Kim Kelly, owner of Sophiella Gallery in Mobile, Alabama, notes there are many factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, ensure the art is hung at eye level so anyone viewing it can enjoy the full effect. Next, consider how natural light will work in its favor. For instance, if the piece is behind glass, she recommends noting how the light changes throughout the day and assessing if glare will be an issue. If you’re keen on highlighting the work, Kelly suggests researching special lighting or calling in a professional, with one caveat. “Keep in mind that while concentrated light can really elevate a piece,” she notes. “It also puts a great deal of focus on every small detail, so make sure it’s truly worthy of such attention.”  

Curb sun exposure. You’ve noticed it before—faded rugs, bleached furniture, even changes in the color of hardwood flooring—all thanks to sun exposure. That’s why Victoria Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Contemporary in Newport Beach, California, urges art owners to be cognizant of keeping artwork away from windows, doors, and skylights. “Direct, constant sunlight—meaning UV rays—will dilute paint color over time,” she explains. “I always recommend that clients place their art where it will receive the least amount of consistent, direct sunlight.” Have a perpetually sunny house? There’s no reason to panic; most paintings are coated with a varnish that’s designed to protect from UV rays, dust, and yellowing. If sun is unavoidable, Kennedy recommends adding museum glass to protect the face. For extra assurance, and something Kennedy does in her own home, she recommends moving your paintings around periodically to help reduce the amount of consistent sun exposure. Added bonus: this tactic provides a new and exciting perspective for your artwork.

Medium matters. Is your painting acrylic or oil on canvas? A framed print? An encaustic with a floating frame? Knowing the medium of your piece is crucial when it comes to figuring out how to care for it. Here, Kennedy shares her basic care guidelines: 

  • For oil or acrylic paint on canvas. These pieces are typically varnished to protect the paint from dust and temporary periods of sunlight. Keep paintings away from areas where they could get wet and occasionally dust them with a microfiber cloth.
  • For framed works on paper. Some of the most durable pieces in a home collection, thanks to the frames that protect them, it’s recommended to keep them away from areas of extreme moisture, but they can usually withstand a bathroom or pool room. As you would with windows, clean the glass with a glass cleaning product as needed. However, do not spray directly on the glass. Instead, apply cleaner to a cloth and then wipe. 
  • For encaustic (beeswax and resin surface). These should be buffed every four to six months with a microfiber cloth to maintain the “glow” and remove any dust or fingerprints on the surface. 
  • For bronze sculptures. Most bronze sculptures are protected by a thin layer of wax, however, they will need regular dusting with a microfiber cloth. 

Art by Christopher Benson at Kennedy Contemporary. Photography by Devon Laureen Media. 

Keep temperature in check. Whether you’re eyeing the wall in your great room for that new oil painting or a coveted corner in your entryway for an avant-garde sculpture, the consensus among all of our fine art experts is to consider the humidity and temperature levels of the space your pieces will occupy. “A good rule of thumb is if the environment is comfortable for you, the art is probably comfortable, too,” Lindsey McCann, owner of Old Main Gallery & Framing in Bozeman, Montana, explains. “If you keep the piece in a stable environment, the art should last for a very long time.”

Call in the professionals. For the most part, your art is a very enjoyable, low maintenance possession. But Alden Kresena, designer and conservation framing specialist at William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas, recommends checking in with your pieces every few months by giving them a good once over. You want to keep an eye out for things such as discoloration of varnish or paint, cloudiness in the varnish, changes in surface texture, or small specks of particles on the paintings. “If you notice any changes to your art, it’s time to take it to a trusted conservator,” she reports. Kelly agrees that occasionally seeking professional cleaning of investment artwork is a smart move. “An expert may advise that you re-varnish a piece from time to time to protect it from atmospheric pollution or anything that can change the surface of the work like smoke, dust, cooking oils, or tiny hands.” 

Take preventative measures. A piece of fine art is an investment, and as with other high value items, it’s wise to consider insuring it. Tierney Aldridge, personal insurance advisor at Denver Agency in Denver, Colorado, recommends insuring art separately on a valuable articles policy, rather than lumping it under your homeowners insurance. “Having a separate policy usually means broader coverage: protecting it in the case of disappearance or damage,” she explains. “Plus, there is no deductible in most cases applied at the time of the claim.” Another important tip she shares: Keep an inventory of your art and for the larger valued pieces, get them reappraised every three to five years to ensure the value is accurate on insurance documents.

Feature photo: art by Richard Thompson; interior design by Trish Sheats; photography by Stephen Karlisch; courtesy of William Campbell Gallery. TSG Tip 450 from Kim Kelly, owner of Sophiella Gallery in Mobile, Alabama; Victoria Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Contemporary in Newport Beach, California; Lindsey McCann, owner of Old Main Gallery & Framing in Bozeman, Montana; Alden Kresena, designer and conservation framing specialist at William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas; Tierney Aldridge, personal insurance advisor at Denver Agency. Sophiella Gallery appears in The Scout Guide Mobile Bay. Kennedy Contemporary appears in The Scout Guide Newport Beach. Old Main Gallery & Framing appears in The Scout Guide Bozeman. William Campbell Gallery appears in The Scout Guide Fort Worth. Denver Agency appears in The Scout Guide Denver and The Scout Guide Phoenix & Scottsdale.