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Tru Vue blog: Conference on Modern Oil Paints

Amy Griffin ACR is a freelance conservator in London. Since her graduation from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2012 she has worked in both the private and public sector, and she specialises in the conservation of Modern and Contemporary paintings.

From the 23-25th May 2018 she attended the Conference on Modern Oil Paints, held at the RijksMuseum, Amsterdam, with sponsorship from a Tru Vue grant. These are her thoughts about the events!

figure_1.jpgRijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Cleaning Modern Oil Paints (CMOP) collaboration has, since 2015, been the go-to for conservators wishing to find out more about 20th and 21st Century oil paints. This initiative has supported projects exploring the issues and challenges of conserving modern oil paints through a partnership between the University of Amsterdam, Tate, Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Pisa. CMOP concluded in the Conference on Modern Oil Paints, which promised a chance to experience the latest research, to bring to life the complex chemistry which allows us to characterise these sensitive paint surfaces, and to gain insight into the emerging practice of modern and contemporary painting conservation - in other words, it was an event that could not be missed!

The conference managed to pack in a huge variety of presentations, with studies by Ilaria Bonaduce and Judith Lee investigating factors in the paint’s structure, such as curing, hydrolysis, pigment type and additives that might lead to paint sensitivity; to presentations which explored the role of environment on the formation of degradation phenomena such as efflorescence and metal soaps. Practical solutions were also discussed, with treatments to address unique modern paint challenges such as dripping paint and extreme delamination described in poster presentations by Jazzy de Groot and Pauline Hélou de La Grandière. Microemulsions and micro-aspirators, demonstrated by Bronwyn Ormsby and Paulo Cremonesi, were amongst the many new materials and techniques proposed to mitigate water sensitivity during cleaning.

figure_2.jpgConference delegates

Ethical issues surrounding the conservation of these sensitive materials were also explored: What do living artists think about the issues affecting their work? Does removing a degradation product like efflorescence constitute the removal of original material? Could it be possible to change display conditions, like lighting and wall colour, instead of removing surface dirt? Over the course of the three days we travelled in spirit from Kuala Lumpur to NASA discovering new questions, new solutions, and, encouragingly, getting the feeling that great progress is being made in this field.

figure_3.jpgModern oil Paintings in Tate’s Collection; a review of analytical findings and reflections on water sensitivity presented by Judith Lee

It isn’t always easy to take the time out of the studio and find the money to attend events like this, but it is always worth it.  The experience has not only informed me about the latest research, but reminded me that modern oil paints present new challenges for everyone, and it was fascinating to share practical tips, successes and dilemmas with my international colleagues over coffee and the famous Dutch butter biscuits. In response to an audience question: What should private conservators who don’t have access to fancy machines and friendly scientists do? The answer was, of course, to make sure you keep abreast of research and in contact with others in your field – so a huge thank you to ICON and Tru Vue and Simon Gillespie Studio for enabling me to do just that!


All images: Amy Griffin


The views expressed in these comments are the views of the individual and do not reflect the views of The Institute of Conservation. Any comments containing inappropriate language or copyright material will be removed.

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