Revealing Chemical Processes in Oil Paintings

Katrien Keune
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Old master paintings as well as modern and contemporary art are subjected to changes from the moment they have been made. Discoloration, increased transparency and darkening, crumbling of the paint, paint delamination and losses: these are just some of the degradation phenomena encountered on oil paintings. They affect the paintings’ appearance and stability, and as a consequence the conservation is often considered problematic. A fundamental understanding of the degradation mechanisms and driving forces behind the ageing processes is important, how fast they take place, and how they are influenced by paint formulation, climate and conservation treatments from the past and present. This presentation highlights degradation phenomena observed in 17th century paintings by amongst others Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen and Adriaen de Coorte. The phenomena are studied in miniscule paint samples that are subjected to synchrotron-based techniques as well as state-of-the-art lab-based techniques. The studies are combined with experiments on specially designed models of mature oil paint to unravel the chemical pathway. The gained knowledge is relevant to conservators and art historians in order to develop more appropriate conservation treatments and to have a better understanding of the painting technique employed by the artist.

Katrien Keune received her degree in Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in 2000 and got her PhD degree in Analytical Chemistry in 2005. Keune was a postgraduate research fellow (supported by NWO Talent-fellowship) at the Scientific Department of the National Gallery in London and worked in many painting-related research projects. From 2012-2016, she was the project leader of and researcher in the multi-disciplinary research project of the Science4Art/NWO program Paint Alteration in Time (PAinT) (UvA). The PAinT project investigates ageing, deterioration and migration processes in oil paints related to pigment-binding medium interactions. From the beginning of 2015, she is the paintings research scientist at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands. She is responsible for the scientific research projects in the conservation studios of the Rijksmuseum. Since 2016, she is a guest scientist at the HIMS-UvA and contributes to the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS) at a scientific and organizational level.


Dr. Katrien Keune

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