Paintings conservator Donatella Banti joins the sympsoium programme, presenting a recent study – Water sensitive modern oil paints: a molecular study of representative oil paints.

Developments in 20th century artists’ oil paint manufacture and composition, such as the use of additives and extenders, has led to new conservation challenges for the treatment modern oil paintings. Many of these works are unvarnished and have accrued a layer of disfiguring surface dirt that cannot be removed using traditional methods using aqueous solvents. The surfaces of these works of art have become polar due to changes in the chemistry of the oil paints from which they were made.

In order to study a possible correlation between water sensitivity and the molecular characterisation of the paints, seven different pigments of modified and unmodified paints from three different manufacturers (Winsor and Newton, Old Holland and Talens) were tested for water sensitivity. Selected paints were subsequently chemically and optically characterised using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) as well as normal light and Hirox microscopy.