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How Does Temperature and Humidity Affect Fine Art

Joe Dickman | April 6th, 2020

Works of art, especially older pieces made with less durable or already-worn materials, are sensitive to their surrounding conditions. Two variables that greatly affect a piece’s health are temperature and humidity. To those asking how does temperature and humidity affect fine art, here is a brief guide.

Rapid Temperature Changes

First, temperature is an important variable mostly because sudden changes in temperature tend to damage artwork. No matter what material a piece consists of, when temperatures drop or raise, it contracts or expands. This movement induces cracking, distortion, swelling, and other physical changes. In extreme heat, paint and other materials may melt and irreparably mar the work’s appearance. High temperatures and rapid temperature swings stress the materials faster than normal, cutting short the work’s life and reducing its quality.

Changing Humidity

Perhaps more important than temperature is how humidity interacts with artwork—especially paintings with fragile canvas and paint. When humidity levels increase, water vapor condenses and lands on a nearby surface. Water that lands on art can begin a corrosive reaction that compromises the piece’s integrity and appearance. Humidity also gives mold spore colonies a good place to start proliferating, permanently damaging pieces. Like temperature, humidity harms art most when it varies often.

On the other hand, if humidity is too low, the piece may lose the small amount of water it holds that helps keep the work together. This can cause the artwork to break apart if extreme enough.

Ideal Conditions

Because it’s clear temperature and humidity affect fine art significantly, it’s important to understand ideal conditions for transport, storage, and presentation. Relative humidity is best between 25% and 65% at each stage. Meanwhile, while the perfect temperature is harder to pin down exactly, cooler storage facilities and refrigerated or insulated vans that keep pieces out of the sunlight are best for preserving artwork.

If you transport artwork, consider investing in a small refrigerated van or more appropriate temperature-controlled vehicle from Emerald Transportation Systems. Our diverse offerings are sure to fit your artwork transportation needs.

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