Minimizing Light Damage to Art
From the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario comes this expert advice. Consider a visit to this beautiful art gallery this summer.
Light is necessary to view art, but at the same time can damage many of the materials found in paintings and works of art on paper. Light can fade pigments, and cause paper and textiles to discolour or become brittle.
Light levels in museums are controlled to minimize the deterioration that light causes. In our homes, however, light levels are generally much higher than in museums. Light levels are measured in lux. Recommended levels in museums are 50 lux for works of art on paper and 150 lux for paintings. A work of art hanging in your home in direct sunlight could typically be subject to 20,000 lux or more – hundreds of times the recommended level.
In addition to keeping the light levels low in a museum, we also eliminate the ultraviolet (UV) portion from any light source. We have all become aware in recent years of the potential damage to our skin from high levels of UV in sunlight. The UV portion of the spectrum is also the most damaging to works of art. Fortunately, it is not part of the visible light we need for viewing, and is easily removed.
Tips for Home
When hanging works of art in your home, there are many things that you can do to minimize the damage caused by light.
- Fit windows with blinds or curtains that are kept closed when the room is not in use.
- Locate your pictures so that they will not be exposed to direct light. For instance, the wall opposite a window will get direct light, while the wall beside a window will not.
- Do not use "picture lights" designed to attach to frames. In addition to over-lighting, these cause local heating that is also damaging to works of art.
- Use incandescent light, which has no UV component, to light works of art. Select low wattage bulbs and use a dimmer switch to set the lighting at the minimum level which allows you viewing comfort.
- If fluorescent lights are used, UV filtering should be incorporated either as sleeves or lenses over the source of the light, or by using UV absorbing Plexiglas to glaze the works.
- Works of art on paper with coloured media (i.e. watercolour) and poor quality paper such as newsprint are particularly vulnerable and quickly damaged and should not be displayed on a permanent basis.