How to Care for Original Oil Paintings[1]

By Robyn Bellospirito

If you're an artist yourself, you won't need to read this as you will probably already know it, or will you? This little bit of information is to give first-time art buyers a very basic understanding of how to take care of the original oil paintings they have purchased and chosen to live with. Believe it or not, most non-artists are unaware that art needs special care and cannot be treated as a piece of furniture might be treated. Whenever someone buys one of my paintings, I try to explain to them the basics of caring for the work, and offer to be available any time they have a question or need assistance with its preservation. After all, I care very much about the well-being of my work. My paintings remain as personal and dear to me when they are purchased as they were the day I created them. Art collectors should always keep in mind that this is how artists feel about their work, and that art is more than just a commodity. It is a piece of the artist's soul.

Here are just a few basic rules:

(For those of you who already know these things, Yippee! This is not for you. These instructions will sound very simplistic, nevertheless I have met many people who actually don't know these things.)

1. Never lean the front or back surface of a stretched canvas on a pointed or sharp object, no matter how small. This will leave a dent that will disfigure your work, and result in annoying and upsetting the artist who spent so much time creating it. If you must lean it against something, lean it on the wood of its stretcher bars so that nothing presses against the canvas.

2. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will fade the colors in your oil painting. Please be aware of this when choosing a location for your work.

3. You might want to dust your painting regularly, so that a thick layer of dust does not build up which will dry out the paint and possibly result in cracking and peeling. Do not spray anything (like pledge) on the work. Dust with a soft, dry cloth. If the surface of your painting looks dry and dull, you may want to have it varnished. Most artists will offer to varnish the work, if they haven't done so already, at a new owner's request and free of charge. Varnish is a protective surface which will not only enhance the image, but will keep the surface intact and safe from cracking (except under extreme circumstances, of course).

4. If you must transport the work, lay a flat piece of cardboard, mat board or similar firm material over the front and back surfaces, and then wrap it in bubble wrap or styrofoam wrap. Try not to keep it wrapped up for too long as to avoid moisture buildup which might cause damage to the work.

5. Never expose your painting to extreme heat, extreme cold, or to extreme humidity. (Yes - this means a flood. Yes - this means a fire. Yes - this means snow. This could also mean an attic in the summer or a damp basement).

6. If something bad happens to the work (i.e. it crashes down on someone's head and gets a big gash in it), bring it to a professional conservator who can fix it properly. Don't do it yourself! Bring it to someone who knows what to do. The artist will appreciate it.

7. If you ever need or want to get rid of the work for any reason, always contact the artist, who should be informed of the work's new whereabouts so he or she can update the work's provenance records. Never, ever destroy or throw away an original work of art!!! If you absolutely can't keep it for any reason, offer to give it back to it's creator.


1. Reprinted with permission of Robyn Bellospirito who may be reached at: PO Box 302, Locust Valley, NY 11560, or

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