Recreating the chemistry of paint degradation in the lab.
Joen Hermans |
I am a postdoctoral researcher, splitting my time between the University of Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum. I am trained as a chemist, and work on fundamental questions relating to oil paint degradation.
I do not often carry out analysis of real artworks. Instead, I design and create model systems that mimic the molecular structure or chemical reactivity of real aged oil paint, while still being suitable for a particular type of chemical analysis. In this way, it is possible to study in great detail how the materials in oil paint react with each other, and how fast these processes occur under certain conditions. Eventually, all this knowledge will be used to understand how current methods of oil paint conservation and restoration are associated with the risk of future degradation, and how we can minimize that risk.
Right now, it is very difficult to make a reasonable quantitative estimate of the risks involved with current practice for the conservation and restoration of paintings. How sensitive is a painting to changes in humidity or temperature, or how much impact does treatment with solvents have on the stability of a painting? While the extensive experience of conservators is a very good starting point, for better risk assessment we need to first understand the chemical and physical processes behind paint degradation. Secondly, we need to measure how the rate of paint degradation is affected by environmental conditions or restoration treatments.
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