ICN in collaboration with Courtauld, Tate and GCI request for information.
The removal of dirt from paintings without affecting the original paint is one of the most challenging problems for conservators. Increasingly, conservators encounter paintings that are proving to be water and/or solvent sensitive during surface cleaning treatment. At the Modern Paints Uncovered (MPU) symposium, held at Tate Modern on 16-19 May 2006, a paper was presented on ‘An Investigation of Water-Sensitive Oil Paints in 20th Century Paintings*. This paper highlighted the problem of sensitivity of well-bound tube oil paint to aqueous solvents used for dirt removal, on the basis of research on paintings by Jasper Johns (Untitled 1964-’65) and Karel Appel (l‘Homme, 1953) from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Colours that are mostly, though not exclusively, affected are ultramarine, cadmium pigments and organic pigments. Since 2006, we have identified many paintings that have problems with solvent sensitivity.
Hypotheses were proposed that link the water sensitivity with surfactant-like functionalities in the paint related to certain pigments in combination with aluminum or other fatty acid soaps, and/or the presence of hydrated alumina which may increase the sensitivity of the paint to water by acting as a swelling agent. New oil paints have been made to test the influence of these materials**. Further investigations indicated that many 21st Century artists' oil paints still exhibit water sensitivity***.
Within the research programme on cleaning of painted surfaces, carried out at the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art, Tate and the Getty Conservation Institute we are looking for a more general overview on the existence and context of this phenomenon.
If you have ever come across well bound, water sensitive oil paints on a painting, please let us know. When was this painting made? Was the sensitivity to water local and/or related to the colour?
Dr. A. Burnstock:
Dr. B. Ormsby:
Dr. T. Learner:
Dr. K.J. van den Berg:
Thank you in advance for your support.
Klaas Jan van den Berg. Tel. +31 -20 3054710.
Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage (ICN)
PO box 76709
1070 KA Amsterdam
* A. Burnstock, K.J. van den Berg, S. de Groot and L. Wijnberg, An Investigation of Water-Sensitive Oil Paints in 20th Century Paintings. In Learner, T. (ed.) Reprints of the Modern Paints Uncovered conference, London 2006. Los Angeles: Getty, 2008. 177-188.1.
** P. Saltmarsh, K.J. van den Berg and A. Burnstock, Making Paint
Without a Recipe: Modern Paint Reconstructions, Poster ATSR Glasgow, June 2008. Hannah Tempest, Courtauld Institute of Art, 3rd year student dissertation in preparation.
*** L. Mills,Keulen, F. Duarte and K.J. van den Berg, Water sensitivity of modern artists’ oil paints. ICOM Committee for Conservation 15th Triennial Meeting, New Delhi, 2008. p.651-659.