A great work of art has certain timeless elements – the genius that creates it, the themes it expresses, the reactions it inspires. But the work itself isn’t timeless at all. It is an assemblage of physical components that are highly vulnerable to time and catastrophe.
With age, a painting can darken, varnish can yellow, and dirt can accumulate. Water exposure, whether it is high humidity over a period of time, or a sudden flood, can loosen the bond between paint and canvas, causing the paint to lift and fall away. Smoke leaves layers of soot on a painting, which flattens the perception of the image and diminishes the dimensional quality of the forms. Air pollution can also threaten the longevity of a painting. And there is the most prevalent damage of all – human negligence in handling, storage, display, and even restoration. Fortunately, most paintings, even those that appear to be ruined, can be saved.