Yellowing – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

What is Yellowing?

Yellowing is a common issue that occurs in artwork over time, where the colors of the piece begin to fade and take on a yellowish tint. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including exposure to light, air pollution, and improper storage.

Yellowing can affect both the paper or canvas of the artwork, as well as the pigments used in the paint. It can detract from the overall appearance of the piece and diminish its value.

Causes of Yellowing

One of the main causes of yellowing in artwork is exposure to light, particularly ultraviolet (UV) light. This can cause the pigments in the paint to break down and oxidize, leading to a yellowing effect over time.

Air pollution can also contribute to yellowing, as pollutants in the air can react with the pigments in the paint and cause discoloration. Additionally, high humidity levels can accelerate the yellowing process by promoting mold growth on the surface of the artwork.

Improper storage of artwork can also lead to yellowing, as exposure to heat, moisture, and fluctuating temperatures can cause the materials to deteriorate and discolor.

Effects of Yellowing on Artwork

Yellowing can have a significant impact on the overall appearance and value of artwork. It can make the colors appear dull and faded, detracting from the vibrancy of the piece. In severe cases, yellowing can completely alter the original colors of the artwork, making it difficult to appreciate the artist’s intended vision.

In addition to affecting the visual appeal of the artwork, yellowing can also weaken the materials used in its creation. This can lead to further deterioration over time, potentially causing irreversible damage to the piece.

Preventing Yellowing

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent yellowing in artwork. One of the most important measures is to limit the artwork’s exposure to light, particularly UV light. This can be achieved by displaying the piece in a location away from direct sunlight or using UV-filtering glass in frames.

Proper storage is also crucial in preventing yellowing. Artwork should be kept in a cool, dry environment with stable humidity levels to minimize the risk of mold growth and deterioration. Additionally, storing artwork in acid-free materials can help protect it from yellowing and other forms of discoloration.

Regular cleaning and maintenance of artwork can also help prevent yellowing by removing dust and pollutants that can contribute to discoloration. It is important to use gentle cleaning methods and avoid harsh chemicals that can damage the materials.

Treating Yellowing

If yellowing has already occurred in artwork, there are some methods that can be used to help reverse or minimize the effects. One common technique is to use a conservation-grade bleach solution to gently lighten the yellowed areas of the piece.

Another approach is to apply a protective varnish or coating to the surface of the artwork to help prevent further yellowing and deterioration. This can also enhance the colors and overall appearance of the piece.

It is important to consult with a professional conservator before attempting any treatment on yellowed artwork, as improper techniques can cause further damage to the piece. Conservators have the expertise and knowledge to assess the condition of the artwork and recommend the most appropriate course of action.

Yellowing in Different Types of Artwork

Yellowing can occur in various types of artwork, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and textiles. Each type of artwork may be susceptible to yellowing for different reasons, depending on the materials used and the environmental conditions to which it is exposed.

Paintings created with oil or acrylic paints are particularly prone to yellowing due to the nature of the pigments used. Watercolor paintings may also yellow over time, especially if they are not properly protected from light and humidity.

Drawings and prints made with graphite or charcoal can yellow as well, particularly if they are not stored in archival-quality materials. Photographs can also yellow, especially older prints that were developed using traditional darkroom techniques.

Textiles, such as tapestries and quilts, can yellow due to exposure to light, moisture, and pollutants in the air. Proper storage and handling of textile artwork is essential in preventing yellowing and preserving its original appearance.

Overall, yellowing is a common issue that can affect all types of artwork, but with proper care and maintenance, it can be minimized or prevented altogether. By understanding the causes and effects of yellowing, artists and collectors can take proactive steps to protect their valuable pieces for years to come.