Paint Delamination as a Result of Zinc Soap Formation in an Early Mondrian Painting

  • Annelies Van LoonEmail author
  • Ruth HoppeEmail author
  • Katrien Keune
  • Joen J. Hermans
  • Hannie Diependaal
  • Madeleine Bisschoff
  • Mathieu Thoury
  • Geert van der Snickt
Part of the Cultural Heritage Science book series (CUHESC)


The Evolution triptych by Piet Mondrian (1911, oil on canvas, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag) presents a case study of a painting that is seriously affected by zinc soap formation, which has resulted in paint delamination and paint loss, particularly in the cadmium yellow paint areas. The paint is extremely fragile, which makes the paintings vulnerable with regard to handling and treatment. This paper focuses on the analytical research of the painting using various state-of-the-art and novel macro- and micro-imaging techniques. Macro X-ray fluorescence scanning (MA-XRF) revealed the presence of cadmium (Cd) and zinc (Zn) in the affected yellow paints. Paint cross sections of both affected and intact paint areas were investigated using light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX), attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) micro-imaging, and synchrotron photoluminescence (PL) micro-imaging. With the help of these techniques, the cadmium yellow pigment could be identified as a mixture of cadmium sulfide and cadmium oxalate. The presence of zinc white was established in areas where the yellow paint film is degraded, while the intact areas of yellow paint do not contain any zinc white. In samples of the degraded paints, it was demonstrated that high concentrations of zinc soaps have formed, accumulating at interfaces. This has caused local chemical and physical changes of the paint resulting in delamination between paint layers.


Zinc soaps Metal soaps Paint delamination Cadmium yellow Mondrian 



This research is part of the Paint Alterations in Time project (PAinT), which is financially supported by the Science4Arts Programme of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The synchrotron photoluminescence experiments were carried out at the DISCO beamline, at Synchrotron SOLEIL, with the help of Matthieu Réfrégiers. Macro-XRF scanning was made possible with the support from the Baillet-Latour fund. We would also like to thank Prof. Joris Dik, Delft University of Technology, for making the Bruker M6 scanner available.


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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annelies Van Loon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ruth Hoppe
    • 2
    Email author
  • Katrien Keune
    • 3
  • Joen J. Hermans
    • 4
  • Hannie Diependaal
    • 5
  • Madeleine Bisschoff
    • 5
  • Mathieu Thoury
    • 6
  • Geert van der Snickt
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.Conservation DepartmentRijksmuseumAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Gemeentemuseum Den HaagThe HagueThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Conservation Department, Rijksmuseum, Van’t Hoff Institute for Molecular SciencesUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Van’t Hoff Institute for Molecular SciencesUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Independent paintings conservatorAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  6. 6.IPANEMA, CNRS, ministère de la Culture et de la CommunicationUniversité de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Muséum National d)Histoire Naturelle, USR 3461, Université Paris-SaclayGif-sur-YvetteFrance
  7. 7.Department of Chemistry -- AXES groupUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  8. 8.Conservation StudiesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

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