Late in the 19th century, many artists brought their easels outdoors in an attempt to paint natural light. Edvard Munch even built several outdoor studios. There, he created hundreds of paintings—some of which he left outside for years at a time. Many of these works have begun to deteriorate, or break down, because of this exposure to the elements. Conservators now debate whether the artworks should be restored or left in their natural—but damaged—state.
When exposed to sunlight, pollution, and extreme changes in moisture and temperature, paint becomes brittle and unstable. The paint is cracking and chipping off of some of Munch’s canvases. Water stains, mold, dirt—and even bird droppings—are also harming the works.