The Treatment Studies research area within GCI Science undertakes scientific investigations of particular conservation treatments and materials for indoor and outdoor works of art. It has conducted research into conservation issues associated with modern paints (both proprietary industrial coatings and artists’ types) and the cleaning of works of art in acrylic paint media.
The Treatment Studies research group is now expanding its research to include treatments for modern artists’ oil paints. Last fall the GCI became a founding partner in the newly formed Modern Oils Research Consortium (MORC), a collaboration with Tate and the Courtauld Institute of Art (both in London), the Hamilton Kerr Institute of the University of Cambridge, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). These five organizations have signed a memorandum of understanding, which formalizes their commitment to work together and to share knowledge about:
- chemical and physical properties of modern oil paints and their behavior over time;
- development of treatments;
- research relating to the use of these materials by artists;
- production and adoption of modern oil paints in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Members of the consortium will meet regularly to exchange information on current research, to explore further development of scholarly research, and to create opportunities for the exchange of staff and the sharing of equipment. They will also look for ways to communicate new developments via conferences, symposia, and publications.
This research collaboration was catalyzed by awareness that twentieth- and twenty-first-century oil paintings and other painted surfaces present a range of complex treatment challenges to conservators that are distinct from those noted in works from previous centuries. These phenomena include the formation of “surface skins” of medium on painted surfaces, efflorescence, unpredictable water and solvent sensitivity, and unusual occurrences such as previously stable, solid paints liquefying and beginning to drip.
Modern oil paints have been used by artists in the creation of paintings and sculpture, typically without any protective coating of varnish, and are often exposed directly to the environment with all the attendant harmful effects of pollutants, dirt deposition, physical alteration, and more.