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Question asked 2017-12-14 21:23:38 ...
Most recent comment 2017-12-17 12:28:47
Matting, Framing, and Glazing
Hello MITRA folks ~ From a conservator's standpoint, can you tell me if there is justification for the wide-spread perception that watercolors are "fragile" and a "poor long-term investment" relative to an oil painting? I've always reasoned that an oil painting is *far* more prone to damage and degradation in both the short and the long term compared to a well-framed watercolor (modern lightfast paints, acid-free materials and UV glazing), since there is, at best, only a thin varnish to protect the oil's surface. Thanks for your thoughts.
Answers and Comments
Let me first say that watercolors can be a very permanent
medium, especially if they are created and treated in the manner that you
suggest. I would bet that this is not the norm. One could also say that most
oil paintings are not created and treated in an optimal manner, as well.
There are reasons why many commentators seemed to elevate
oil paintings above watercolors in terms of longevity. The first is due to the
nature of the paint. Historically, watercolor manufacturers were more likely to
include more fugitive pigments in their watercolor line than their oil lines of
paintThis was backwards thinking on the part of the art materials
manufacturers. The gum Arabic binder in watercolors is very minimal and does
not really surround and coat the pigments in the same way that oil or acrylic
dispersion binders do. This means that the pigments receive the full force of
visible and UV light. Pigments that are barely suitable in oil are outright
fugitive in watercolor. The other binders are more fully covering and absorb
some of that energy. The presence of a varnish creates even more of a barrier. You
did address this and included only permanent pigments in your ideal
The paper is another source of sensitivity in watercolors,
even the highest grade cotton rag paper can suffer photochemical degradation.
Again, you mention the use of UV blocking glass, which would prevent this.
Canvas is usually made from cellulose as well, but in traditional painting,
this is covered with a ground and the paint, blocking this radiation.
Finally, the absorbent nature of a watercolor painting means
that dust is easily trapped in its surface and the water-soluble nature of the
medium complicates cleaning. And again, your ideal watercolor addresses this. So if the one takes the precautions you
describe, watercolor can be very permanent.
Art is only as durable as the collector's commitment to proper display and care. A watercolor needs to be correctly framed and displayed in a location that doesn't excessively expose colors to UV light. The same is true of any painting. Gallery owners have told me horror stories about valuable, important works hung in client bathrooms, over fireplaces or even on outdoor patios. Of course, the artist can't claim, "warranty void if hung in the bathroom".
Matthew, the same thing can be seen on paintings hung on
exterior walls (those that have the outdoors on the other side as compared with
interior walls). The movement of moisture through the wall has a major impact
on preservation. I have images of a pair of pendant portraits from the 19th
century that were painted at the same time and with the exact same materials
and techniques. The one hung on the interior wall is in very good condition
while the one hung on the exterior wall is flaking and in a poor state of preservation.
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