Study of the mechanical and dimensional properties of modern and contemporary painting materials


Since 1.850, the artistic production of the avant-garde was characterized by the variety of painting techniques, the experimentation and the absence of any artistic or stylistic canons. However, far beyond historical and aesthetic aspects, and from a more tangible and objective perspective, it also represents great challenges. Unlike the commonly considered Ā«traditionalĀ» art, the artworks produced in the last two centuries are characterized by multiple and different materials that interact among each other generating dynamic and constantly changing complex structures. In other words: the ability to predict, prevent, stop and/or treat damage in modern and contemporary artworks turns into a difficult task from the perspective of traditional conservation criteria and strategies.

The industrial revolution of the mid-nineteenth century and the later development of the chemical industry in the mid-twentieth century brought great technical advances, including in the Fine Arts field. The production of artworks moved from the natural materials prepared by the artist in his studio to the au-plein-air technique, the agile brushstrokes and the rapid production of paintings, the art market, the variety of finishes and textures because of the different media and techniques used and thus the experimentation of artists in search of textures and color effects impossible (and even unthinkable) until then.

Specifically in the field of materials, the production of industrial paints and the marketing of paint tubes, ready-to-use industrially primed canvases etc., would bring mass production and costs reduction. The use of additives and low quality pigments, coupled with the use of preservatives, plasticizers and extenders present in the paint tubes to preserve their fluidity are the origin of most of the problems currently associated to modern and contemporary paintings nowadays. This evidences that the studies based on the control of the environmental conditions that have been traditionally the key to stop degradation and minimize damage are not enough.

Nowadays there is a common and growing interest at an international level to know in detail how modern and contemporary paintings are built and how do they degrade. For this purpose two types of studies are usually combined:

1-One is the analysis of case studies from private collections and institutions that often present obvious and dramatic alterations and where the integrity and stability in the mid-to-long term are compromised.

2- A second type are lab experiments, that are carried out to test and analyse either original samples from the above-mentioned case studies as well as reference materials and where the simulated degradation can be monitored under controlled conditions and by means of different analytical techniques.

The aim of this research line is to understand the chemical interactions that take place in modern and contemporary paintings, the degradation mechanisms that they undergone in time, the alterations typically found in the surface as well as to design the appropriate conservation strategies for their stabilization and preservation.

Key words

Mechanics; Failure: Structure; Cultural artefacts; Behaviour; Conservation strategies; Modern and contemporary paintings