Sunday, March 29, 2009

The care of art on paper

The following are the most important considerations in the preservation of art on paper.

  • Nothing acidic in contact with the artwork.
    The most common agent that causes the destruction of art on paper is acid. This can come from the use of either wood backing in a frame or wood-pulp mat board for the art piece. If the artwork has been in contact with such material in the past, it should be deacidified, as acid will likely have migrated from this material and currently be present in the artwork itself.
  • Matting material should be 100% cotton rag.
    Of the many types of mat board available, we recommend 100% cotton rag mat board for housing art on paper. The most deceptively named boards are some "acid-free" mat boards made from wood pulp. While the acid content of these boards has been reduced from that found in the raw pulp, it has not been eliminated. The buffering agents used on the surfaces are only effective against airborne compounds, and do not protect against heat and light activation of acidic elements remaining in the board. Short term, these are fine, but not for long term storage.
  • Hinges should be archival
    If hinges are used to attach the art work to mat board, it is important that these not have any acidic content and that the hinges be easily removable without damage to the art work.
  • Any storage container should either be acid-free or separated by a buffer from the artwork
    If the artwork is to be framed, nothing with acidic content should be in contact with the paper. (Click here for blog on proper framing of prints) If the artwork is to be kept in a portfolio or box, the print should be separated by a buffer from anything with acidic content.
  • The artwork should be kept away from other destructive factors
    The artwork should be protected from insects, spills of liquids, and sunlight. All these things can cause serious harm to the artwork.
  • Try to maintain a stable environment for your art work.
    Consistent 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity are optimal. Some slow variation in these factors is acceptable over a period of months or years, but any sudden change can be harmful. It is advisable not to hang or store art work on a damp wall, a wall that has been recently plastered, over a working fireplace, or in any area subject to excessive sunlight, heat or dampness.
  • Handle with care!
    It is obvious, but still important to note that care should be taken in handling art on paper. Paper is easily torn, but dirty or oily hands can also damage a print. With careful and not too frequent handling, gloves are not necessary (in fact, gloves can cause damage by being less sensitive than bare hands), but hands should be clean before touching the paper. Housing the print in a mylar envelope can allow art to be examined while providing protection of the fragile paper


  1. Hi! I recently came across about 30 sketches of the Dreyfus Affair by Paul Renouard. They are paper mounted on thicker paper with a semi transparent vellum cover that describes the name/subject of each picture. I have no idea if they are etchings/original/litho.. some are initialed in pencil all of them looke like black crayon. I am really concerned with how to store them. Framing them would entail seperating the top sheets (which I don't want to do) but I also don't think I could afford to frame all 30 of them. So what is the best thing to do? Also where can I go to have them looked out without paying a hefty appraisal fee before I know what I have? Thanks in advance.

    1. This appears to be some sort of portfolio published about the Dreyfus Affair. I am not familiar with it off hand, but there is no such portfolio I am aware of which has any significant value. That doesn't mean the images are interesting, but I suspect they have minimal value as prints. The best thing to do in terms of conservation is to keep them together and store the portfolio in an acid-free environment.

  2. Thank you for your valuable input! I found a portfolio just like mine at the Harvard library. It looks like there were 150 original printings, mine is no. 25. Now if they will just answer my email so I might learn more about them. It's so exciting. I love Antiques an history. Than you again!