Issues encountered during analysis and treatment of contemporary artworks by conservation scientists, conservators, and other professionals have been brought into the limelight during recent years. Both in the United States and throughout the world, contemporary art collections have introduced new concerns regarding the use of modern materials, artists’ intent, and so on. Even the modern use of materials such as oil paints have demonstrated conservation issues. During this presentation, Bronken described her team’s research into oil paintings (created after 1950) which have exhibited softening and dripping media. The team’s research was conducted on works produced by Jean-Paul Riopelle (Canadian, 1923-2002), Pierre Soulages (French, b. 1919), Georges Matthieu (French, 1921-2012), Paul-Émile Borduas (Canadian, 1905-1960), Frank Van Hemert (Dutch, b. 1956), Paul Walls (Irish, b. 1965), Jonathan Meese (German, b. 1970), and Tal R (Danish, b. 1967).
Softened paint shows decreased surface gloss in normal light and drip material fluoresces in ultraviolet light (sometimes misinterpreted as fluorescing varnish). Softening/dripping impasto and thickly applied paints are easier to identify, but analysis has demonstrated the presence of softening in thinner paint layers as well. Possible causes of this phenomenon are the use of semi-drying oils in recent decades and the development of fatty acids in paint. In their abstract, the authors mention: “There is ample evidence from a number of paints studied by mass spectrometry that the exudates are rich in polar fractions with triglycerides with moieties of mid-chain oxygen-functionalised stearic acids and azelaic acids . . . observations led to the hypothesis that exudation is caused by a loss or absence of anchor sites for the acidic fractions that develop over time.”1
Lead II acetate and europium II acetate were tested by brush and gel application. These compounds treated the softening and dripping oil paint at the molecular level by penetrating into the sample to create carboxylates and forming a hard crust on the paint surface. Brush application was determined to be the most effective method. At this time, the only disadvantage appears to be the lack of reversibility.
About the Speakers
Ida Antonia Tank Bronken, Touring Exhibitions Coordinator, The National Museum, Norway
Bronken graduated from the University of Oslo with a Candidata Magisterii in Fine Art Conservation (2002) and a Masters in Conservation (2009). Bronken has been working for the Touring Exhibitions Department at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Norway since 2011. Her main interests are collection management and chemical change in modern paint. Bronken has cooperated with Boon since 2007 on different studies on softening and dripping paint, and has contributed to four papers since 2013 about dripping paint (currently at different stages of publication and review).2
Jaap J. Boon, JAAP Enterprise for Art Scientific Studies
Boon, PhD was trained in Geology and Chemistry at the Universities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Delft Technical University (1978). He became Head of Molecular Physics at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (1987) and Professor of Molecular Palaeobotany at the University of Amsterdam (1988). His first survey studies on painting materials and traditional paints were performed in 1991, which resulted in collaborative research with Tate Gallery London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Limburg Conservation Studio (SRAL) in Maastricht and EU supported development projects. His research focus changed gradually from identification of constituents towards chemical microscopy and spectroscopic imaging of pigments, binding media and their interactions in paintings. Boon was Professor of Analytical Mass Spectrometry in the University of Amsterdam (2003-2009) and is presently author/coauthor of about 400 research papers and supervised 33 PhD theses. Boon received the KNAW Gilles Holst Gold Medal for his innovative work at the cross roads of chemistry and physics in 2007.3
1 Bronken, I., & Boon J. J. (2015). Investigating Softening and Dripping Paints in Oil Paintings Made Between 1952 and 2007 [Abstract]. AIC Annual Meeting 2015 Abstracts, 81-82.