Should I Put Glass In Front Of My Painting When I Frame It?

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I’m often asked this question by people who are reframing their artwork, so here are a few thoughts that may guide you… or confuse you. Either way, people usually find my answer interesting.

Of course, the motivation for putting glazing (the general term for glass, plexiglass, etc) in front of artwork is for protection. It can be protection against grime, smoke etc. or it could be protection against clueless people or vandalism.

Years ago the De Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco put glazing on front of all of their paintings as a result of their paranoia and their incapability of keeping the general public from touching the artwork. I guess you can tell from how I phrase that last sentence that I don’t like glazing in front of artwork if it cannot be helped. But some artwork is too fragile and it is accepted that glazing should cover prints, watercolors, perhaps collectibles in shadowboxes and not left naked to the open air.

Anti-glare technology increasingly gets better. It usually, also, has a UV filter

Also, glazing with UV filters can help substantially (not not 100%) to reduce fading (notice I did not say eliminate fading). Also, the magic of technology can greatly reduce reflections which can kill the viewing and enjoying experience.

So, in summary here are some reasons to put glazing in front of artwork:

  1. Protection against touching and vandalism (this might be a good idea in a house with kids and lots of traffic).
  2. Protection of very sensitive artwork, like a lot of contemporary pieces.
  3. UV protection (not fool proof)
  4. Protection against grime, smoke etc.

Unprotected pastels and other sensitive or easily damaged art won’t make it to the next generation if you don’t take action to protect it.

TIP: If you frame art with glazing, space the glazing away from touching the art. I like to space it at least 1/8” but ¼ is better. And remember, Plexiglas creates a static field which pulls pastel dust off the artwork… so maybe even more space than ¼” is better. But here are some arguments against glazing on oil/acrylic paintings:

If you were going to put glazing in front of your artwork then consider that in our art conservation laboratory we often pick broken glass out of artwork which includes scratched and sliced paint layers or worse. So, if you’re shipping artwork take note that this is the most often accident that causes damage of artwork by broken glass.  If you are going to ship, transport or store paintings either remove the glass, seriously tape over the glass so it doesn’t go everywhere when it breaks or replace it with plexi. If you live in earthquake/hurricane country and if your artwork is knocked off the wall and the glass breaks at 3 o’clock in the morning you’re going to be walking through it. Remember also that violent storms and earthquakes turn items hanging on your walls turn into projectiles. If you want suggestions on how to avoid this go to: https://www.HangAFramedItemSafely.com

A truly heartbreaking situation but a result of a very stupid collector who shipped this gorgeous, high quality, valuable artwork with little protection. The glass broke and then slid around in the packing which broke up the paint layers. We could have stabilized and restored this to look perfect, preserving its beauty and most of its value but the collector didn’t want to spend the money and I think they threw it away!!

In the art conservation lab we often find mold between the glazing and the artwork. The glazing creates a microclimate inside so be especially aware if you live in regions of high humidity. I would especially avoid glazing in tropical regions.

The biggest reason for me, however, is that I don’t want anything between me and the artwork when I enjoy or study it.

Thanks to art historian, scholar, author Dr. Anna Dantes (Rome) for updating us on the painting conservation treatments of this world famous painting by Caravaggio that has to be worth somewhere around $350 million. It has just returned on view after a meticulous study and exacting art conservation treatments. A surprising decision by museum admin., yet wonderful for those that take the time to stand in front of the painting, they removed the protective glazing from in front of the painting so there is nothing that stands between you and the genius and impact of the artwork.

Here is Dr. Dantes’ comments in Italian: La tela di Caravaggio senza filtri, così come era stata concepita, con tutta la forza che la materia è in grado di trasmettere. Il capolavoro di Michelangelo Merisi, Fanciullo con canestra di frutta, si può finalmente ammirare senza il vetro.

Dopo un’accurata anamnesi dell’opera che, partendo dai dati di archivio, ha permesso di ricostruire la storia conservativa del dipinto e anche le movimentazioni e i restauri che si sono succeduti nel tempo, il quadro è stato sottoposto alla verifica puntuale dello stato di conservazione, che ha confermato le ottime condizioni e la possibilità di rimuovere il vetro.

A seguito di tale rimozione è stato comunque avviato un monitoraggio costante per verificare eventuali modificazioni della superficie dipinta.

Questions: Call us! Scott M. Haskins, Virginia Panizzon Art Conservators 805 564 3438 faclofficemanager@gmail.com

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About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/testimonials/
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