Fine art needs fine care

PURCHASING FINE ART that has particular appeal for a buyer is only the first step. Taking care of it involves more than just paying for insurance. What exactly does the long-term preservation and appreciation of an investment piece entail?

“There are specific guidelines an investor in fine art should follow to maintain the desired value of the purchased art,” explains Stuart Cox of Marsh Africa, a global leader in risk management. “Specialised insurance is essential to protect the investment in the event of loss, damage or theft, but it doesn’t cover wear and tear or gradual deterioration. There are, however, a number of measures that will help investors to look after their art.”

According to Stuart Cox, senior relationship officer at Marsh Africa, protective measures are vital to ensure an artwork acquired for investment purposes retains its value. Photos: Francois Booyens


An artwork can be damaged in transit if it is incorrectly handled. Ensure that you use a repu­table shipper who is experienced in packing and transporting art. Check if they will be using a third party vendor and if the art will be temporarily stored in another location. If so, ensure the vendor has experience in handling art and that the storage provider has adequate fire and security measures in place. Request condition reports from the handlers before packing and after unpacking. These reports should include detailed descriptions and high-resolution photographs of the pieces and documentation of any pre-existing damage.


Take care to hang your artwork securely (especially if it is heavy) and use the right tools to prevent damage. If you are unsure, hire a professional hanger or ask the gallery to mount the piece for you.

Install smoke, not heat, detectors in case of fire, as the latter provide little protection against soot or smoke damage. Water sprinklers above an artwork are likely to damage it. Water alert sensors are useful in areas suscep­ti­ble to water damage. Install adequate security measures – burglar alarm, CCTV cameras, motion detec­tors – at all points of entry and glass sensors at windows and skylights.

Avoid hanging or displaying your artwork in direct sunlight or artificially generated light, which may cause the quality of the paint to deteriorate over time. Paper as the base for fine art is particularly fragile, but such artworks can be protected by framing them with a UV-filtering acrylic rather than glass. Protective film can be applied to your home’s windows, although even with this precaution, exposure to direct sunlight is still harmful. Consistently high levels of indoor lighting can also hasten deterioration. Avoid hanging your fine art near or above heat sources, or under bathrooms, water tanks or cylinders.

The long-term preservation of your fine art depends on the environment it is kept in. Extreme changes in temperature and humidity cause paint to flake or crack or an object to grow mould. The ideal temperature range indoors is between 21°C and 24°C. Humidity should be kept at between 45% and 50%.


When selecting a storage facility, take the following factors into account:

•  The building is in good condition and not located next to a hazardous operation;

•  Fire and security guidelines are compliant with industry standards and are reviewed on a regular basis;

• Temperature and humidity controls are maintained in good working order;

•  Artworks are stored on elevated racks or shelves to prevent damage due to flooding;

•  The staff is experienced in handling fine art;

•  The inventory management system is regularly reviewed.

If storing artworks at home, avoid the attic or basement, which are susceptible to dramatic temperature changes, flooding and leaks. An alternative could be an ‘art closet’ that has horizontal racks and a lockable door. Wrap all items in archival materials and store framed artworks vertically and face to back.


If you invest in an outdoor sculpture, remember that it is constantly exposed to the elements and develop a plan for protecting it. Diverse factors go into the long-term preservation of outdoor sculpture and it is important to understand them.

It is key to have an experienced engineer examine the sculpture prior to installation to recommend moving methods and the material, size and thickness of the item’s base or support. Professional installers who understand weight distribution and have the right equipment for large and heavy sculptures should be used.

Once installed, the sculpture should be inspected periodically. Keep a written record of the inspection and create a photographic record so that subtle changes can be documented. Your inspection should inform your
initial decisions about the type of care the sculpture requires. Some intuitive care measures can be taken, such as the removal of overgrowing vegetation, but other problems may require specialist advice from a conservator.

Seek advice on how best to look after your sculpture. Regular maintenance requires little outlay in time or finances, but will be rewarding. The following tips may be useful:

•  Rinsing a sculpture with water from a hose removes soil, industrial pollutants and bird droppings;

 Arrange annual inspections with a conservator, who can advise whether a piece needs cleaning by a professional restorer;

•  Landscapers and irrigation specialists should hand trim vegetation and redirect sprinklers to avoid damage.


Keep and regularly update an inventory of your collection – including invoices, appraisals and authenticity certificates – in hard and soft copy. Each item should be described in detail: title, artist, medium, dimensions, year of creation, source and provenance, date of purchase and current location. A high-resolution photograph of the piece should be included. Finally, ensure that the insured values of all your fine art pieces are up to date.

 • This information is advisory in nature. No liability is assumed by reason of the information provided in this article.


•   Wear cotton gloves when touching your paintings or acrylic framing surfaces.

•   Keep the glass or acrylic panel protecting your artwork squeaky clean. Always use a soft cloth or an ammonia-free glass cleaner.

•   Dust, don’t clean, paintings that are not protected by glass or acrylic.