Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd


Paper Treasures

This Article First Appeared In July 12 2007 Country Life

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How do I hang this drawing? How much light can this watercolour be exposed to? Should I take this pastel out of its frame and clean the glass? Do I need to use ultraviolet protective glass? What should this drawing be framed in? These are questions that I am frequently asked by collectors and interior decorators, and these are factors which concern most people. We all have works on paper of some sort and some are more valuable than others and do need to be cared for, in much the same way that any work of art needs to be cared for. I refer to ‘drawing’ throughout out this article, but this term equally applies to prints and watercolours, or any medium on paper, and is relevant even if the paper is machine made paper or wove paper. The situation is different for pastels and works on vellum, which tend to fall into the category of ‘drawing’, but their conservation requirements are very different. For example vellum, which is essentially a skin, needs to able to breathe. Paper also needs to breathe but vellum even more so and will be seriously damaged, and has been damaged in the past, by collectors gluing the vellum onto a support so it can not move. This is probably the worst thing that can to done to vellum since it will expand and contract as it responds to the air temperature, and it will bring the support with it, or not as the case may be. This results in the vellum splitting, or the support warping. Vellum needs to be handled with care and a conservator needs to be consulted. The same applies to works in pastel, and care needs to be taken if taking a drawing out of the glass, indeed this is best left for a conservator, since pastels are usually glazed and the pressure between the glass and surface of the pastel will be disturbed when unframed.

Any work on paper, and this includes prints and works on vellum, need to have the right mount in a frame (or in a solander box if your collection is so large that there is no more space on the walls!). The mount must be acid free. If you have bought your drawing from a dealer this will be 9 times out of 10 already on the right acid free board. If you have bought your drawing from auction, and it has come from a private collection check with a conservator what you should do. Invariably the object will need to be taken out of the frame (by the way keep the frame if it is old, you can always re-use it on a future purchase if you do not use it this time) and the drawing will need to be re-matted with acid free tape attaching the drawing to the paper. The object may well require some conservation work due to the acid coming through the matt, or indeed any other immediate repairs such as foxing or the removal of significant blemishes. At this stage you may notice some ‘burning’ of the paper, just where the matt was positioned. This will have occurred because the drawing was exposed to too much light. Sadly this is irreversible damage, and I would advise you choose some ultraviolet glass. This will remove about 99% of the light which damages paper, and you can be confident in hanging your drawings in a well lit room. For example the drawings in this collection, which include modern and old master drawings, are hung in a room with plenty of sunlight, but are protected by the ultraviolet glass.  The drawings are on acid free mounts, with a decorative colouring of the mounts, which are bespoke for each drawing, and add a particular visual look. It is also advisable that the drawing is properly sealed at the back, and this will stop any silver fish bugs getting in and eating the ink or paper, which they find surprisingly tasty, and they have no respect as to value or quality. I have seen some wonderful drawings which have been eaten away due to some careless care.

If you are hanging drawings in a lit room I have seen collectors cover the drawings and the frame with a cloth. This makes for a dramatic unveiling, however it does make it rather difficult to enjoy your purchase.

The physical hanging of drawings has not changed dramatically in the last 100 years, and actually follows some broad rules, both of which have been followed in the watercolour dated circa 1900 and the ones in the modern setting. The watercolour by Barbara Corfe represents the interior of Canon A.S. Valpy and his wife, circa 1900, and is The Drawings Room at No.3, Cathedral Close, Winchester. In each setting a central anchor image is chosen, and then this is mirrored by a drawing. It is simple, but very effective and pleasing and gentle on the eye. The drawings in the Drawing Room at Winchester have been hung from the dado rail with chain wires. This is still sometimes used today, but more typically, as in the one of the modern setting, the drawings are hung from picture hooks, attached to wire on the back of the backing board.