Many people have oil paintings in their homes. Oil paintings are quite durable and can last several hundred years without any attention if kept in a good environment. Unfortunately, many oil paintings have had a hard life and are now in a fragile condition. These paintings, which may be only fifty years old, need special consideration and care.

Have a look at your paintings to see if there are any signs of damage or deterioration. Check that the paintings are hung securely.

If a painting is in poor condition with tears, large dents and flaking paint, or is dirty, contact a conservator to fix these problems.

There are steps you can take to protect your paintings.

  • Hang your paintings in a dry part of the house, away from direct sunlight. Make sure you position them so that furniture cannot bump them and small children cannot reach them.
  • If you remove the painting from the wall, look at what is holding the frame to the wall. The hanger or hook on the wall and the screws or eyehooks on the frame should be strong and firmly attached. Most importantly, string should be replaced with picture wire or another wire that is adequate for the job. A great deal of damage occurs when the string breaks and the painting falls on to furniture or the floor.
  • A piece of cardboard stapled or fixed to the back of the painting helps to prevent deterioration of the canvas. However, do this carefully to avoid damaging the painting.
  • Do not attempt to clean a painting with any liquids, especially ones you may have read about in books and magazines. They may be successful for some paintings buy may be a disaster for your painting, causing irreparable or expensive damage.
  • If your paintings are sound, with non-flaking paint, you can dust them gently with a soft brush.
  • Treat newer paintings with the same care as old paintings, even though they are probably less fragile.

If you need more information about your paintings, consult a private conservator or ring your local art gallery if conservators work there.

The Paintings Conservator at the Australian War Memorial contributed the information. If you need more information, ring the Conservation Section on (02) 6243 4418 and ask for the Paintings Conservator.