Over the fireplace

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Colleen O’Brien wrote, “I was meeting with a client last night and a question came up regarding hanging artwork over a new fireplace. One of the builders said to never hang art above a fireplace as it would ruin a painting. Another person said there is no issue. There will be no mantel on this particular fireplace. Do you have any knowledge about this?”

Thanks, Colleen. Apart from the fact that “over the fireplace” is a traditional (and mandatory) location for art, there are three main problems with fireplace proximity. One is the excessive drying that takes place near any heat source. Canvas, particularly, can become brittle after only a few years. Also, overheated oils can become cracked and flaky. Modern, better designed fireplaces may radiate heat outward and not be as problematical.

Another problem is the buildup of soot and grime from smoky, poorly designed hearths. Visiting in a cottage this summer I noticed a really dark oil over an ancient river-stone fireplace. The painting looked like something out of a mediaeval nunnery. On closer examination it was a landscape by a deceased painter I used to know. He would be rotisserating in his grave if he saw it, I figured, so I offered to clean it up. It was quite a job. Starting with Mr. Clean and a soft, circular motion with a white towel, I soon found myself resorting to a Brillo pad. (Please don’t share that last sentence with anyone — that’s strictly between you and me, okay?)

Actually, well dried, with a final cotton-batten cleaning with mineral spirits and a shot of Damar varnish from a spray can, it looked like a million bucks. Interestingly, with the darkening that had taken place over the years, the folks who owned it simply lived with it and thought that was how it always was.

There’s another thing about fireplaces. Whether there’s a mantel or not, paintings tend to fall down from them. For some reason they seem to land on the corners of the fire screen or the sharp parts of fireplace implements. Holes in fallen canvasses are a big problem around Christmas, particularly where stockings are involved. Also, the heavily-laden and overweight Claus coming down the chimney may inadvertently be knocking the pointy ends of picture hooks. Just a theory.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The national distrust of the contemplative temperament arises less from an innate Philistinism than from a suspicion of anything that cannot be counted, stuffed, framed or mounted over the fireplace.” (Lewis H. Lapham)

Esoterica: One only needs to look at paintings under glass to see the effect of dangerous, poorly-drawing fireplaces. The constant return of an oily smudge (creosote) may indicate the presence of toxic, airborne substances, including carbon monoxide — the result of incomplete or low-temperature burning. Perhaps a painting over a fireplace is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine — a pleasant monitor to have hanging around.

No water on oils please
by Carolyn Edlund, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA

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“Sonata for Heartstrings”
oil painting by Carolyn Edlund

Goodness me, Robert! Mr. Clean — are you truly serious or just honing the point that soot accumulation is darned hard to remove? Water, water everywhere and nary should it touch an oil painting…but then, you didn’t specify whether the artist used oil or acrylic paint. Conservation wisdom on the subject of grime encrusted art (of the oil painting genre) is adamant that water should never be used to clean oils. It seeps into cracks loosening the paint film encouraging future flaking. Here are some resource materials. Except for the last, which is specific to works on paper, these books cover all manner of antiques in addition to paintings and works on paper.

The Winterthur Guide to Caring for Your Collection (Winterthur Decorative Arts Series) ~ Gregory J. Landrey

Care and Handling of Art Objects (Practices in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
~ Marjorie Shelley

Caring for Your Art: A Guide for Artists, Collectors, Galleries and Art Institutions
~ Jill Snyder

How to Care for Works of Art on Paper Museum of Fine Arts Boston ~ Roy L. Perkinson

Sulphur turns pigments black
by John Smith, Durban North, South Africa

A number of pigments turn black in the presence of sulphur, so hanging an oil painting or in fact any painting above a fireplace is not a very good idea.



There are 2 comments for Sulphur turns pigments black by John Smith

From: Judith Silver — Sep 17, 2010

Does this hold true for pastel as well?

From: Anonymous — Sep 18, 2010

I thought this was true of cadmiums but genuine cadmium is a rarity now so it shouldn’t be a problem, on the other hand I could be wrong.

Bad choice
by Cristina Monier, Buenos Aires, Argentina

091610_christina-monier

“Wild Orchids”
oil painting by Cristina Monier

Over the fireplace is a bad choice, as are drafty places, direct sunlight and where sudden changes in temperature and humidity may take place. If only people took care of their paintings as they do of their plants! But as much as I admire Mr. Genn as a painter and a teacher, my advice to him (and everybody else) is to leave conservation and restoration of easel painting to professionals. That’s why they study for long, grueling years and would never, ever clean a painting with anything but the smallest q-tips and the appropriate solvents.

Depends on the climate
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA

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“Jim Bush”
oil painting by Jackie Knott

There are variables in “over the fireplace.” In south Texas we may have a fire four to six days in a season. In Alaska, our fireplace was continually fed for five months without ever cooling. Anyone living in a northern climate knows how the interior climate can ravage our skin every winter. One can only imagine what it is doing to a painting. We’ve all seen accent lights spot heating a painting on a dark wall. That can’t do a canvas much good either. Other than advising your client of those dangers it’s basically their painting after they buy it. I’ve never heard a gallery recommend to a buyer where to hang a painting; they probably should.

Steamy kitchen sink
by Roslyn Levin, Shelburne, ON, Canada

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“Spirit Bear”
sumi-e painting
by Roslyn Levin

Your painting over the fireplace email brought to mind a client of mine who wants to hang a painting over her kitchen sink. My work is sumi-e, Japanese brushstroke, painting on rice paper, mounted on canvas with a final coat of acrylic matte medium for protection. I have reservations about such a move but still want the sale.

(RG note) Thanks, Roslyn. What people do with your art is their business. All you can do is warn them against the possibilities of damage. One temporarily disquieting event is when you nip into the bathroom at a friend’s house and find one of your works above a certain piece of bathroom furnishing.



There are 3 comments for Steamy kitchen sink by Roslyn Levin

From: Carolyn H Edlund — Sep 17, 2010

Ah yes, the bathroom as gallery! I have hung a couple of my own works (well protected under glass with sound framing)in this most auspicious space. I once did a graphite study (realism) of a fellow artist’s foot. Some time later I discovered it proudly displayed, yes, in the loo! I wasn’t in the least dismayed; visitors have time to study the nuances and note the signature!

From: Rose — Sep 17, 2010

Yes, I have a pen and ink in my bathroom for the last 25 years and never given it a thought…It is under glass,the paper is a little more yellow…but we are doing great.

From: Ellen Shipley — Sep 17, 2010

Sigh. I have two of my pieces hanging in a friend’s bathroom. One is a woodcut, which can only warp I suppose. But the other one is a tapestry, and I fear for the threads. But as you say, it’s their business.

No problem with modern fireplaces
by Scott Anderson

Modern, gas-fired fireplaces are much more efficient and radiate heat throughout a room and do not belch heat and soot upward as in the older, wood-fired type, which are now, in many jurisdictions, illegal. In many cases air tight and behind thermal glass, they should not be a problem to valuable paintings hung above them. In my experience over many years of service with approved installations, there is no issue.

Potential for water damage
by Laurie Debord, Texas, USA

I just wanted to add another reason to be careful about hanging paintings above fireplaces. This last week during the rains and flooding here in Texas, water came in due to flashing not being installed properly around our fireplace chimney. The sheetrock was soaked and the painting fell to the floor. Thankfully, not damaged, only the frame was somewhat out of whack.

To varnish or not?
by Melanie Peter, Gainesville, FL, USA

091610_melanie-peter

“Green house”
oil painting by Melanie Peter

Your “over the fireplace” letter reminds me to ask the big question about varnishing oil paintings: to varnish or not? Some artists, including myself, rarely give paintings a final varnish. Very few of us live in homes heated entirely by wood or coal or have windows opening to unpaved streets that cast up dust and dirt. We have central heat and air, sealed environments, paved streets. The idea of varnishing was to keep a layer between the paint and the dirt that could be safely removed or safely cleaned. My corporate portraits will never see the open air or a fire, unless the building burns. My question is: do we need to varnish?

(RG note) Thanks, Melanie. Varnishing also serves to even out sinking in areas which occur in both oils and acrylics. Different pigments and variation in grounds hold paint in different ways, and most painters prefer consistency. Nowadays, you are quite right, varnishing has become a matter of taste. On the other hand central heat and air, sealed environments and paved streets do not protect against fly specks, occasional smokers and Martini splashes.



There is 1 comment for To varnish or not? by Melanie Peter

From: carol barber — Sep 17, 2010

Love your new web site. Your new paintings are so beautiful they make me want to cry. I am really connecting to their poetry, especially since they are images that are so familiar.

Endorsement of book
by Sam Adoquei, New York, NY, USA

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“The Ballerina”
oil painting by Sam Adoquei

Thank you for being gracious and generous with the endorsement of my book. Forgive me for taking me this long to write. I have been in Europe for the past two months and just returned two days ago. We sold between 80-100 books on Amazon because of your letter. I owe you a big one, for both the sales and your kindness.

(RG note) Thanks, Sam. How Successful Artists Study
was mentioned in my letter An artist’s world on July 30, 2010. I found Sam Adoquei’s book to be a stimulating, energizing read and loaded with truly excellent advice, especially for young artists just out of art school.



There is 1 comment for Endorsement of book by Sam Adoquei

From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — Sep 16, 2010

I love that book too and find myself going back to it whenever I need a pep talk.

Comments

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 Featured Workshop: Painting in the Bugaboos with Robert Genn

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Painting in the Bugaboos with Robert Genn

The date for next year’s Bugaboo Helipainting trip has been set for September 7 to 10, 2011. To obtain more information or to be kept up to date, please call Audrey Frey at 1 800 661 0252.

The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Deann Rex, UT, USA,  

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Untitled

original painting by
Deann Rex, UT, USA

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Brenda Behr of Goldsboro, NC, USA, who wrote, “You’ve named a place where a watercolor, pastel or other like medium, protected by glass, will win out over its oil and acrylic cousins.”

And also Edwina Halsey of Albany, NY, USA, who wrote, “Personally, I would not do that. You are asking for trouble with that. Mantel or not, a fireplace will eventually ruin your painting.”

And also Bonnie Butler of Lorton, VA, USA, who wrote, “Are the over-the-fireplace areas reserved for TVs these days? If your ‘harsh conditions’ theories prevail, they’d hold true for expensive electronics too!”

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Over the fireplace

 

 

From: Darla — Sep 14, 2010

The obvious solution would be to hang a heavily-varnished giclee over the fireplace. That way if damage did occur, you would not have lost a one-of-a-kind painting. Perhaps the artist could furnish a giclee with the original (at a little above cost) if the image was to be hung in an “iffy” area like over the fireplace, in the kitchen, bathroom, or in a sunny location. The original could hang in a safer location. As a former sign designer, I’ve seen just how quickly the sun can bleach pigments, especially the reds.

From: Phyllippa Medura — Sep 14, 2010

Over a fireplace is not good. Neither over a blown air vent or a radiator. All things considered, however, I’ve found that the the most deteriorated of my older work has resulted from sunlight and poor materials, the latter being the most villainous circumstance. For years I was not particular about the materials, giving only casual attention to the archival quality of my supports. (Merely “acid free” doesn’t cut it.) Eventually this deficiency catches up with a work no matter where it’s hung. Hang the work where it is exposed to overmuch light and erratic or extreme temperatures and humidity, and disaster is in the offing. I find that I can do more about the archival nature than I can do about the ultimate wall placement of my wandering works.

From: Per Hofstaad — Sep 14, 2010

As is more common these days, I have a mechanic who is culturally very savvy. He repairs cars in his garage by day, and is often a denizen of concert halls and galleries by night. While he has hung only a welded steel relief in the bays where daily cars are serviced, his office is totally unexpected and spectacular. One day I noticed an installation of dials along one wall. He had put climate controls in the small office of his garage. No fool of any kind, this man!

From: Cristina Monier — Sep 14, 2010

Over the fireplace is a bad choice, as are drafty places, direct sunlight and sudden changes in temperature and humidity.

If only people took care of their paintings as they do of their plants!

But as though I admire Mr. Genn as a painter and a teacher, my advice to him (and everybody else) is to leave conservation and restoration of easel painting to professionals, thats why they study for long, grueling years and would never, ever clean a painting with anything but the smallest q-tips and the appropiate solvents.

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 14, 2010

There are variables in “over the fireplace.” In south Texas we may have a fire four to six days in a season. In Alaska, our fireplace was continually fed for five months without ever cooling. Anyone living in a northern climate knows how the interior climate can ravage our skin every winter. One can only imagine what it is doing to a painting.

We’ve all seen accent lights spot heating a painting on a dark wall. That can’t do a canvas much good either.

Other than advising your client of those dangers its basically their painting after they buy it. I’ve never heard a gallery recommend to a buyer where to hang a painting; they probably should.

Speaking of, a primer on cleaning a painting would be appreciated.

From: Scott Anderson — Sep 14, 2010

Modern, gas-fired fireplaces are much more efficient and radiate heat throughout a room and do not belch heat and soot upward as in the older, wood-fired type, which are now, in many jurisdictions, illegal. In many cases air tight and behind thermal glass, they should not be a problem to valuable paintings hung above them. In my experience over many years of service with approved installations, there is no issue.

From: Nigel Spooner — Sep 14, 2010

England thought she was France and did not begin to install central heating until after the Second World War. The toll on art from coal hearths has been enormous.

Newcastle

From: Thea Swengel — Sep 14, 2010

Hang Giclee prints over the fire place or in the sun room. When I sell a John Farnsworth reproduction I promise to replace it if anything damages it, for only replacement costs.

From: Jean — Sep 15, 2010

“MR. CLEAN”??? Robert, are you serious? I have a dirty old oil painting and I am afraid to clean it as it might damage it forever! Somewhere I read that one should use pieces of soft white bread to remove the dirt.

From: Dailey-McIlrath — Sep 15, 2010

I think ” Over the Fireplace ” is a great place for a large painting but only for a maximum of 12 months. The painting should the be moved to another wall and a new painting should be purchased for ” Over the Fireplace.”

From: Seymour Marabout — Sep 15, 2010

Yes, in the throwaway world, what does it matter if a giclee loses its colour after a few years over the fireplace or in the sun. It will probably be out of style anyway and need to be replaced by something else more current. It is only in old cabins, castles and heritage places where art needs to reflect the nature of the place.

From: Peter Brown — Sep 16, 2010

Fire places are completely stupid in the first place. Seal it with an airtight enclosure. Get more heat with less wood, and hang anything you like above it.

From: Brian, Upstate NY — Sep 17, 2010

Interesting opinions on art, where to hang it, and strangely enough fireplaces! We have a wood furnace in the front of the house and blown hotair heat in the rest of the house. Try as you might you will end up with a dry house. SKin suffers, art suffers, leatherhard clay….dries fast!

I think if you are going to be buying artwork you ought to be taking where you plan on putting it into account before you ever write that check.

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Sep 17, 2010

What should be avoided in hanging art is extreme changes in temperature. Also, never hang a recently painted oil near a lamp or other light source that produces heat. I had an instructor once who painted a portrait commission; it was hung near a lamp and the painting surface was ruined.

From: Brian, Upstate NY — Sep 18, 2010

@Marie, thing is many people who buy art, aren’t the most knowledgeable about where to hang it or how to care for it. Some art but they tend to be more knowledgeable about art to start with.

I just let it go, make the art and send it on it’s way. Once I have completed it and sold it, I have no more attachment to it. If someone comes back and says “I was using *** and it broke!! can you fix it?” I just show them new pieces (if it is ceramics, different mediums would change my response)

I say make the work, send it to its new home and believe it has a great life there!

From: Joy — Sep 20, 2010

I was just about to donate or lend a piece of oil pastel to some friends for over their fireplace – had a sudden vision of dripping material and soot, so no go!

From: Nicholas Tessler — Sep 23, 2010

Fire is one of the central elements in all cultures (earth, air, fire, water). To place something of value over the fire is to honor it. Fire and its honoring is not going to go away, no matter how laundered and purified. What is interesting is that significant works of art for our homes are seldom placed over “water.”

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 27, 2010

I’ve had a piece over the fireplace for years with no ill effects. In fact, it’s canvas in a wood frame.

We need to remember there isn’t a fire in the fireplace every day of every year. If one has a fire it’s limited to several days in winter and for limited times of the day or night. Add to which many switch out a work frequently. I would be more concerned with hanging within the hearth itself. Now you’ve got a real problem. Or is it firewood?

From: Murray — Aug 21, 2011

An artist and I are presently investigating the insulation requirements for a planned wall feature for installation around a linear gas fireplace with thermal glass front and a copper firebox surround. The oxidised metal artwork will be protected by several layers of an EX-74 epoxy polymer coating to give it a very reflective glass-like finish. It is heat resistant to 53°C, waterproof, and martini (alcohol) resistant. I was wondering if you or anyone else in this forum has had experience with this type of installation.

From: Jane in Ottawa, Canada — Jan 25, 2012

Speaking from personal experience, using a modern, gas fireplace can definitely damage art hung above it. We used the fireplace intermittently, and had water damage to a print matted under glass and hung above the mantle. The warm air from the fireplace would hold more moisture (from us humans?) than the ambient air, so the moisture condensed on the art above as the room cooled . With glass on top, evaporation would be constrained.

We first noted the matting bulging, then opened up the backing and separated the layers in the frame to find watermarks on the print.

 

 

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