How to care for fine art

How to look after paintings in a desert environment.

A cotton bud should remove most household dirt, says Guy Vesey, the regional director of Bonhams Middle East.
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Ah, sun and sand. Twin joys at the beach, but less so in the home, where strong light and errant sand can be a curse for painted works of art. With a little know-how, though, you can keep the smile on all of your Mona Lisas.

Guy Vesey, the regional director of Bonhams Middle East, says routine care will make all the difference. "Sand can be extremely corrosive if left in contact with paint, so regular dusting is essential. The other big enemy is the powerful sun - keeping works of art out of direct sunlight will preserve their beauty longer."

He cautions that when cleaning a painting extra care needs to be taken. "You should avoid using yellow flannel cloth dusters as they can leave particles of the cloth on the surface of the work." Feather dusters are better, but still can get caught in the impasto and knock off loose pieces.

The best option? "A cotton bud and spit. Although it sounds funny, spit is often the best thing to use."

The internet is full of sites offering tips, but Vesey advises that if a painting is valuable - whether monetarily or personally - you should seek professional help.

"I have heard some crazy suggestions in the past, but like all online how-to sites, they need to be taken with a pinch of salt. What works for one painting might ruin the next and, unless you are a knowledgeable collector with some experience in handling art, I would recommend seeking advice. This is highly technical work and should be done by professionals.

"I think that if you are ever in doubt, seek help, and make sure they are professionals before employing them. Check the credentials of restorers and ask your insurance company if it has restrictions or suggestions about who to use. If you bought the work from a gallery or auction house, call them."

While they might not offer such services, they will be able to direct you to a trusted cleaner, he adds.

How often you will need to dust depends on a number of factors. "The consistency of climate and light in a closed room will keep the artworks relatively dust free. If they are exposed to the outside from open windows or doors, you will need to dust more regularly - but with paintings, and especially photographs, try and avoid direct sunlight.

"I would pass a duster over art works once a week. In terms of professional cleaning, it is done as and when it's necessary. If a work begins to lose its original shine, or has been exposed to cigarette smoke or dust for a long period it may be time to have it professionally cleaned."

And stay clear of cleaning products. "A kitchen cloth or cotton bud should remove household dirt from an oil painting," Vesey says, even if something is accidentally spilled on the painting. "But you need to make sure that it is done soon after spillage and that the paint used is oil-based or at least has a layer of varnish on it."

Chips and cracks can be repaired, but it's a job best left to the professionals, Vesey cautions. "If you are an amateur painter, make sure you know the value of a work before attempting your own restoration or you could be causing irreparable damage."