The Art of Storage and Preservation

The Art of Storage and Preservation

Written by Ruchi Bhalla

Love for art in the world has led to people stockpiling greater amounts of fine art pieces. The need for storing art is common among museums, private collectors, art dealers, and individual artists. Not only are the art collections becoming larger but work of art is also becoming bigger in size. For instance, museums tend to send large chunk of their collections off site as there’s a space constraint on the onsite display space.

  • Preventive preservation


To ensure art permanence and longevity it is necessary to protect it from the dangers that the common environment poses in the form of temperature as various materials react differently, relative humidity as growth of mold and mildew is likely to rise in anything other than ceramics or glass when humidity rises, visual light as it is required to not just view the art work but also for its movement. Unfortunately this means oxidation and deterioration of the art pieces, it is therefore suggested to limit the use of light to moments when art is undergoing a study, Ultra Violet has higher energy than visible light and can result in yellowing or decay of art. To combat UV, interference filters can be used, contaminants not just affect the collection but also the individual taking care of the collection, in form of gases such as Sulphur Di Oxide, Nitrogen Di Oxide and Ozone which can be reduced using the HVAC systems in the storage area.

  • Handling of objects

Oils released by human skin are primary reason for staining the objects. It is strongly suggested to use vinyl gloves prior to handling the art pieces. Attention needs to be paid in case the objects are to be moved. The cartons used should be lined with quilted furniture pads, acid free tissues, foam pads etc. An ideal container provides a shell protection from shock and mishandling while also caring for insulation from climate and atmospheric changes.

Packing and crating

Packin and Crating

Packing and crating

Atelier 4’s in house packing and crating

  • Museums- how they do it?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Storage in their warehouse is done via elevator for transporting big sized art works where they maintain 50% humidity and 70 degree Fahrenheit temperature.

Whitney museum

The Whitney Museum of American art- Paintings are stored in vertical filing system, displaying each work upright. Crates and metal shelves are used to store sculptures.

The Louvre

The Louvre Museum- The museum has storage area which is partially underground and is also the place of maximum flow of paintings and sculptures being delivered for future exhibitions. Louvre uses FloVENT  technology for air simulation.

  • Simple storage

Art storage has gained utmost importance as negligence can ruin a collection and erase it’s potential value. Paintings have been found to lose value when they are framed as they get exposed to moisture, heat and light. The simple steps to overcome this is to use acid free paper folders in metal lockers, laying individual prints on flat surface and not touching each other also bearing in mind that rolling them can make the paint crack or peel, use of acid free mat to avoid contact between glass and the painting and glass should have a UV filter coating.

It is essential in case of long term art storage that there is climate controlled environment supported by the presence of security cameras for protection.

  • Simple hacks for storing at home

Important first step is to clean the art piece by removing dust prior to storage. Framed artworks should always be stored vertically and in cabinets separated by foam. Acidic works should be kept separate as acid is easily transferrable and can cause damage. Other options include Encapsulation, Solander boxes, deep sided storage boxes etc.

  • Preservation and storage of Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa is approximately 500 years old and is still remarkably preserved. The various conservation treatments that the painting has undergone include varnishing towards the end of 16th century and rev-arnishing in 1809. The Mona Lisa has been painted on a poplar wood panel cut out from single plank of wood. Poplar support expands and contracts with changes in humidity, which led to an 11 cm long crack that exists on the top left of the painting. This crack was prevented from further widening by attaching two dovetails. The picture was strengthened with an oak frame in 1951 and reinforced with four horizontal cross braces in 1970.

Mona Lisa Back

Back panel, Source:

Mona Lisa

Crack on Mona Lisa, Source:

Crosspieces were replaced with sycamore crosspieces in 2004-05.During it’s history Mona Lisa has also been given watercolour touch ups on scratches, crack in panel and Mona Lisa’s left elbow. Insect infestation on Mona Lisa’s panel was treated with Carbon Tetrachloride in 1977.

Despite the best conservation techniques used on Mona Lisa it is believed that picture has become dark with successive coats of varnish as color range chosen could not have been limited to blue of the sky to yellow of the sleeves with moderate amounts of red, grey, brown and ocher.

Painting is kept under climate controlled conditions in a bulletproof glass with humidity maintained at 50% ±10% and temperature between 18 and 21 degree Celsius. The case also has a bed of silica gel treated to provide 55% relative humidity.

Mona Lisa on display is illuminated by 20 watt LED lamp which minimizes UV and infra red radiation.

  • Natural disaster, loss of art and insurance

A risk of natural disaster calls for more alertness . Hurricane Sandy in 2012 led to a paradigm shift in the way storage of art was done as loss of art was approximated at 300 million dollars.

Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services, a 6 story warehouse experienced flooding on it’s ground floor, however, value of art damaged was not disclosed by Christie’s.

It is highly recommended that owners should insure their collections even though it’s not a fool proof solution.