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Advancement in art conservation with Vincent van Gogh

Zinc oxide has been industrially produced as a white pigment for painting since the 1840s. Unfortunately its presence has recently been linked to serious deterioration resulting from reaction of zinc oxide with fatty acids from the oil-based paints.

Gillian Osmond is an art conservator at the Queensland Art Gallery did her PhD at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland with Prof. John Drennan and Prof. Michael Monteiro. Through an ARC Industry Linkage Project, The Twentieth Century in Paint, she investigated the mechanism of zinc stearate formation and its distribution in affected paint samples. This aggregation has very important consequences for the stability of art works. A particularly high profile case involves Vincent van Gogh’s Falling Leaves (Les Alyscamps) pictured here. She used a combination of characterisation techniques at Microscopy Australia at the University of Queensland and at the Australian Synchrotron, including electron microscopy, X-ray analysis and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy.

zinc serrate micrograph

Gillian’s findings have been published in Applied Spectroscopy and are part of a collaboration with researchers from JAAP Enterprise for MOLART Advice in Amsterdam, Microscopy Australia at the University of Queensland and the Australian Synchrotron.


October 21, 2012