Painting lab > 20th-century paint


Modern and Contemporary Art in the laboratory: Analytical study of 20th-century paint


Project in the framework of the research campaign "Impulse for research in the Belgian federal scientific institutes " (MO/39/010) · January 1, 2010 - December 31, 2013 - Promoter: Dr. Steven Saverwyns - Full-time assistant: Wim Fremout


Partners: Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Belgium; The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), USA; Instituut Collectie Nederland (ICN), The Netherlands; Ghent University (UGent), Belgium; Artesishogeschool - Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Belgium; École nationale supérieure des arts visuels de la Cambre, Belgium.



The introduction of synthetic organic pigments and binders mainly during the 20th century has caused a revolution within the art of painting. The choice of pigments has increased enormously and also polymeric binders - most notably acrylic, alkyd and polyvinyl acetate - have claimed their place in the artistic world. The analytical research on paintings however mainly focuses on the analysis of natural materials in old paintings. Modern and contemporary paintings, as well as synthetic restoration materials, hardly receive attention, despite the needs. Even more than is the case with old paintings, with modern paintings knowledge of the materials is essential prior to any conservation-restoration treatment as well as to develop long-term preventive conservation strategies. Technical studies concerning the painting technique of modern paintings also require the identification of the materials used, which besides can be useful to answer questions regarding authenticity.

The aim of the project is to develop and introduce new analytical methods to enable the study of modern painting materials, as well as to construct reference databases for modern pigments and binding media for each technique used (mainly micro-Raman spectroscopy - MRS, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy - FTIR and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry - GCMS). The performance of the developed analytical methods will be tested in a variety of case studies on modern and contemporary paintings and art objects.   

With the aid of the newly developed analytical methods, the project meets the needs of museums of modern and contemporary art, as well as those of restorers confronted with synthetic restoration materials.