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Blanching of paint and varnish layers in easel paintings: contribution to the understanding of the alteration

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The blanching of easel paintings can affect the varnish layer and also the paint layer with a blurring effect. The understanding of the physicochemical and optical phenomena involved in the whitening process remains an important challenge for the painting conservation. A set of ca. 50 microsamples from French, Flemish, and Italian blanched oil paintings, from sixteenth to nineteenth century, have been collected for in deep investigations. In parallel, the reproduction of the alteration was achieved by preparing some paint layers according to historical treatises and altering them in a climatic chamber in a humid environment or directly by immersing in ultrapure water. The observation of raw samples with a field-emission gun scanning electron microscope revealed for the first time that the altered layers have an unexpected highly porous structure with a pore size ranging from ca. 40 nm to 2 μm. The formation mechanism of these pores should mostly be physical as the supplementary analyses (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry) do not reveal any noticeable molecular modification. Considering the tiny size of the pores, the alteration can be explained by the Rayleigh or Mie light scattering.

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Correspondence to Anaïs Genty-Vincent.

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Genty-Vincent, A., Eveno, M., Nowik, W. et al. Blanching of paint and varnish layers in easel paintings: contribution to the understanding of the alteration. Appl. Phys. A 121, 779–788 (2015).

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