Paint Alterations in Time. Implications for Conservation, Presentation and Storage of Oil Paintings from Van Eyck to Mondrian
04 / 2012 - 03 / 2016
In this multidisciplinary project, paintings conservators and scientists investigate ageing, deterioration and migration processes in mature oil paints, and measure the rates of these processes and the factors, both internal and external, that influence them. An inventory has been made of current/urgent conservation issues from a wide selection of paintings from Dutch (museum) collections. These include, for example, the problem of ultramarine sickness in a painting by Van Eyck, the formation of whitish lead-rich surface crusts in two paintings by Rembrandt, increased transparency and darkening of paintings by Jordaens, the eruption of lead- and zinc white-based underlayers in a painting by Van Gogh and the loss of cohesion of cadmium yellow paint in two paintings by Mondrian. These paintings will form the basis of this research. Although the selected paintings vary in production methods and history, their deterioration phenomena are representative of those commonly encountered in oil paintings, and can all be related to pigment-oil binder interactions. Reaction and migration processes are studied and mimicked using oil paint reconstructions, chemical experiments and chemically synthesized and mathematically modelled oil paint systems in response to a number of parameters, including pigment type, painting technique, time, organic solvents, aqueous cleaning agents, light, and fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. The project aims to provide an improved scientific basis to guide conservation strategies, not only for the selected paintings, but also for oil paintings in general. This knowledge is crucial for the evaluation of past and present approaches to the conservation of paintings and painted surfaces.