How Long Will My Oil Paintings Last?

Do you have an oil painting collection in your living room? Is it possible that they’re starting to look old and worn out? If you’re curious about how long my oil paintings last, keep reading!

When you make something you’re proud of, you want it to look as fresh and vibrant as possible for as long as possible. Fortunately for painters, it is possible to create artwork that will last hundreds of years. In recent years, interest in archival quality supplies and techniques has grown, and even hobbyist painters are concerned about the longevity of their work.

It’s worth the effort, and the best place to begin is by discussing some of the common issues that may arise as a painting ages, as well as what you can do to avoid them.

Cracking

If you look closely at the oldest paintings in a gallery, you’ll notice dark lines and cracks across the canvas. They’re easy to spot on almost every painting over a century old, and art restoration experts will tell you that it’s one of the most difficult issues they face.

When oil paint dries and cures, it goes through a chemical process that hardens and makes it more brittle. This process slows but does not completely stop, leaving old oil paintings extremely firm, delicate, and prone to cracking. Acrylics do not go through the same chemical process as polymers, but they are much more susceptible to cold temperatures and can become brittle enough to crack.

Tips: 

  • Oil paint naturally deteriorates over time, but exposure to certain chemical fumes during the curing process (which can last months or even years) will hasten the deterioration, so avoid using harsh cleaning products near an exposed piece.
  • If you’re painting a winter landscape in plein air or otherwise keeping a painting at low temperatures, oil paint will last longer than acrylic.

Fading

Color fading is probably the most common concern for both artists and art collectors, but the good news is that it is easily avoided.

Exposure to bright ultraviolet light is the quickest way to fade vibrant colors, which is why museums and galleries take care to keep valuable pieces out of direct sunlight.

When displaying your work, keep light exposure in mind at all times. Windows, fortunately, are excellent at filtering out the most harmful ultraviolet light, and a frame with a glass front will provide even more protection. Paintings kept indoors usually last longer than you might expect, even in bright and sunny rooms, but direct sunlight should be avoided.

Tips:

  • When it comes to fading, not all paint is created equal. Check your paint tubes for a lightfastness rating that tells you how well that particular color will handle long-term light exposure.
  • Watercolor tends to be more vulnerable to fading than oil or acrylic paint and will need extra protection from sunlight.  
  • Be aware that some pigments, like fluorescent colors, will have naturally poor lightfast grading and require extra caution if fading is a concern.

Peeling

An artist’s worst nightmare is seeing their painting literally fall apart, and it’s all-too-real if a little care isn’t taken. When paint lacks adhesion, it will slowly peel away from the surface and flake off in chunks. There are a few different things that can cause this, and the majority of them should be avoided before your brush ever touches paint.

Tips:

  • Over-dilution of the paint can also cause peeling and lifting. The less adhesive the binding becomes as it is watered down in paint.
  • If you’re not painting on a canvas, make sure to research the best techniques for the surface you’re using. When it’s humid, objects with high alkaline levels (stones, statues, bricks, and other masonry) will react poorly with oil paints and flake off quickly.
The Marshall Gallery 2

By Dru Bloomfield – https://www.flickr.com/photos/athomeinscottsdale/3836187025/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95427764

Are You Looking for Contemporary Art to Complement Your Home?

The Marshall Gallery, located in Scottsdale’s Historic Arts District, has been the center of contemporary art since its founding in 1998. Boasting a collection of paintings, sculptures, and exquisite glass pieces, the gallery hosts several exhibitions each year plus a biennial glass invitational that attracts top-notch talent. Here you will find exceptional art presented in an open and relaxed gallery space, which is perfect for browsing the ever-changing collection. Explore on your own, or allow our expert art consultants to offer complimentary assistance to find the perfect addition to your own collection. Looking for the perfect piece of art to complement your home’s decor? Visit us in person or browse our online art store!