Skip to main content

Mechanical and Moisture Sorption Properties of Commercial Artists’ Oil Paint by Dynamic Mechanical Thermal Analysis (DMA), Nanoindentation, and Dynamic Vapour Sorption (DVS)

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Conservation of Modern Oil Paintings


This study examined the physical/mechanical properties of selected artists’ oil paints. Samples included paint outs of pure paint as well as samples paints that have been modified. Dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) and nanoindentation were used to investigate mechanical properties. DMA tests indicated appreciable differences in glass transition temperature (Tg) within each sample set. The effect of the paint modifications could be observed in terms of changes in the glass transition temperatures. Carried out at ambient temperature and controlled relative humidity conditions, the nanoindentation testing included determination of modulus values, before and after 24 h immersion in aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent, of the underside surfaces of yellow ochre and cadmium yellow paint samples. The ultramarine oil paint sample tested by nanoindentation at different relative humidities showed that the paint softened significantly by sorption of water, indicating vulnerability to permanent deformation at high moisture levels. Moisture sorption isotherms confirmed significant increases in water uptake above 60% relative humidity, especially for ultramarine. These results explain why conservators experience very different effects of temperature and moisture-based treatments.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    Test paint film of Grumbacher Burnt Sienna (linseed oil binder) prepared in 1978 by M. Mecklenburg.

  2. 2.

    See Sect. 32.2.2 for instrumental details of DMA. Theoretical and experimental treatments of viscoelasticity have derived vector-based descriptors of mechanical properties in terms of complex modulus (E∗), storage or elastic modulus (E’), and viscous or loss modulus (E”), where E∗ = E’ + iE”. Usually this relationship is expressed as G∗ = G’ + iG” where the G terms represent the corresponding shear moduli of the material. A further useful parameter, tan δ, is the ratio G”/G’ [5]. The most common DMA test is a thermal scan during which changes in the parameters of G’, G” and tan δ are measured as the temperature is increased at a set rate. The temperature at which any thermal transition occurs will depend on the frequency of the applied periodic stress. Conventionally, the temperature at the peak in the tan δ trace at 1 Hz is taken as the Tg of polymers ([4, 6]: 509). A comprehensive critical overview of the determination of Tg using DMA is provided by [2].

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

    In all the time-temperature DMA scans reported in this study, the 10Hz δ maxima were at higher temperatures than the corresponding 1Hz data, which confirms this is the glass transition.

  5. 5.

    Er′ can be calculated by:

    $$ {E_r}^{\prime }=\frac{\sqrt{\pi }}{2}\frac{1}{\beta}\frac{1}{\sqrt{A_{\mathrm{p}}}}\;\frac{P_0}{h_0}\cos \delta $$

    where β is a geometric factor of the indenter tip, Ap is the projected contact area, δ is the phase shift, P0 is the amplitude of harmonic load, and h0 is the amplitude of harmonic displacement.


  1. BOON, J.J., and HOOGLAND, F.G. 2014. Investigating Fluidizing Dripping Pink Commercial Paint on Van Hemert’s Seven-Series Works from 1990–1995. In Issues in Contemporary Oil Paint VAN DEN BERG, K.J, et al. (Eds). Cham: Springer. 227–246.

    Google Scholar 

  2. CHARTOFF, R. P., WEISSMAN, P. T. and SIRCAR, A. 1994. The application of dynamic mechanical methods to Tg determination in polymers: an overview. Assignment of the Glass Transition. ASTM International.

    Google Scholar 

  3. COOPER, A., BURNSTOCK, A., van den BERG, K. J., & ORNSBY, B. 2014. Water sensitive oil paints in the twentieth century: a study of the distribution of water-soluble degradation products in modern oil paint films. Issues in contemporary oil paint. Springer. 295–310.

    Google Scholar 

  4. DUNCAN, J. 2008. Principles and applications of mechanical thermal analysis. Principles and Applications of Thermal Analysis, 2. In GABBOTT, P., Ed. Oxford: Blackwell. 119–163.

    Google Scholar 

  5. ERHARDT, D., TUMOSA, C. S. & MECKLENBURG, M. F. 2005. Long-term chemical and physical processes in oil paint films. Studies in conservation, 50, 143–150.

    Google Scholar 

  6. GEARING, J. 1999. Dynamic mechanical (thermal) analysis. In BROWN, R. 1999. Handbook of polymer testing: physical methods, CRC press. New York: Marcel Dekker. 501–531.

    Google Scholar 

  7. HAY, J. L., and PHARR, G., M. 2000. Instrumented Indentation Testing. In KUHN, H. and MEDLIN, P., Eds., ASM Handbook Volume 8, Mechanical Testing and Evaluation. Materials Park, Ohio: ASM International. 232–243.

    Google Scholar 

  8. HAGAN, E., CHARALAMBIDES, M., LEARNER, T. J., MURRAY, A. & YOUNG, C. Factors Affecting the Mechanical Properties. Modern Paints Uncovered: Proceedings from the Modern Paints Uncovered Symposium, 2007. Getty Publications, 227-.

    Google Scholar 

  9. HEDLEY, G. & ODLYHA, M. The moisture softening of paint films and its implications for the treatment of fabric supported paintings. First published in: Traitement des supports. Travaux interdisciplinaires. Paris, 2, 3 et 4 novembre 1989, 1989. ARAAFU, 157–162. Reprinted in: VILLERS, C. (ed.); HEDLEY, G. Measured Opinions: Collected papers on the conservation of paintings. London: UKIC 1993: 99–102.

    Google Scholar 

  10. HEDLEY, G; ODLYHA, M; BURNSTOCK, A; TILLINGHAST, J; and HUSBAND, C A study of the mechanical and surface properties of oil paint films treated with organic solvents and water. In Book. Cleaning, retouching and coatings: technology and practice for easel paintings and polychrome sculpture: preprints of the contributions to the Brussels Congress, 3–7 September 1990. Mills, John S.; and Smith, Perry (Editors). International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, London, United Kingdom (1990) pp. 98–105

    Google Scholar 

  11. LEE, J., BONADUCE, I.., MODUGNO, F., LA NASA, J., ORMSBY, B., VAN DEN BERG, K.J. 2018. Scientific investigation into the water sensitivity of twentieth century oil paints. Microchemical Journal, 138: 282–95.

    Google Scholar 

  12. MECKLENBURG, M. F., TUMOSA, C. S., ERHARDT, D., VANDIVER, P. B., MASS, J. L. and MURRAY, A. 2005. The changing mechanical properties of aging oil paints. In Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology VII: Symposium held November 30-December 3, 2004, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings, V. 852. VANDIVER, P. B., MASS, J. L. and MURRAY, A., Eds. Warrendale, PA: Materials Research Society. 13–24.

    Google Scholar 

  13. MECKLENBURG, M. F., TUMOSA, C. S. & VICENZI, E. P. 2013. The influence of pigments and ion migration on the durability of drying oil and alkyd paints. In New Insights into the Cleaning of Paintings (Cleaning 2010), Proceedings from the Cleaning 2010 International Conference, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. MECKLENBURG, M. F., CHAROLA, A. E. and KOESTLER, R. J., Eds. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Publications. 59–67.

    Google Scholar 

  14. MICHALSKI, S. 1991. Paintings: Their response to temperature, relative humidity, shock, and vibration. Art in Transit: Studies in the Transport of Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 223–248.

    Google Scholar 

  15. MILLS, J. S. and WHITE, R. 1999. The Organic Chemistry of Museum Objects, 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth.

    Google Scholar 

  16. MILLS, L., BURNSTOCK, A., DE GROOT, S., MEGENS, L., BISSCHOFF, M., VAN KEULEN, H., DUARTE, F., and VAN DEN BERG, K. 2008. Water sensitivity of modern artists’ oil paints. In ICOM Committee for Conservation 15th Triennial Conference, 22–26 September 2008, New Delhi: Preprints, Bridgland, J., Ed. Paris: ICOM Committee for Conservation. 651–659.

    Google Scholar 

  17. OLIVER, Warren Carl, and George Mathews PHARR. 2004. “Measurement of Hardness and Elastic Modulus by Instrumented Indentation: Advances in Understanding and Refinements to Methodology.” Journal of Materials Research 19 (1): 3–20.

  18. PHENIX, A. 2011. Thermal mechanical transitions in artists’ oil paints and selected conservation materials: a study by Dynamic Mechanical Analysis (DMA). Postprints of the Paintings Specialty Group, American Institute for Conservation meeting, Los Angeles, 2009. BUCKLEY, B., Ed. Washington DC: American Institute for Conservation. 72–89.

    Google Scholar 

  19. SALVANT, J., BARTHEL, E. and MENU, M. 2011. Nanoindentation and the micromechanics of Van Gogh oil paints. Applied Physics A: Materials Science and Processing, 104, 509–515.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. SATO, K. 1976. The mechanical properties of filled polymers. Progress in Organic Coatings, 4, 271–302.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. SNEDDON, I.N. 1965. The relation between load and penetration in the axisymmetric Boussinesq problem for a punch of arbitrary profile. International Journal of Engineering Science 3 (1): 47–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. VANLANDINGHAM, M. R., CHANG, N. K., DRZAL, P., WHITE, C. and CHANG, S. H. 2005. Viscoelastic characterization of polymers using instrumented indentation. I. Quasi-static testing. Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics, 43: 1794–1811.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. VANLANDINGHAM, Mark R. 2003. Review of Instrumented Indentation. Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, 108 (4): 249–265.

    Google Scholar 


  1. Artists’ oil paints, Winsor & Newton Artiststs’ Oil Colour, Harrow, UK

    Google Scholar 

  2. Hydrated alumina, purum, Brocades-Stheeman & Pharmacia, Amsterdam, before 1993

    Google Scholar 

  3. Aluminium stearate; technical grade, British Drug Houses Ltd, Poole UK, c.1993

    Google Scholar 

  4. Zinc stearate; technical grade, Aldrich 30, 756-4, Steinheim Germany

    Google Scholar 

  5. Fatty acids; heptadecanoic acid 98n/n, Aldrich [506-12-7], Milwaukee WI, USA

    Google Scholar 

  6. Linseed oil; koudgeslagen, De Bonte Hen, Zaandam, Netherlands c. 1992

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This project received support from Heritage Plus, a Joint Programming Initiative of the European Commission and the Getty Conservation Institute.

The authors also wish to thank Lise Steyn, Bronwyn Ormsby, Klaas Jan van den Berg, Mikkel Scharff, Jørgen Wadum, Tom Learner, Ilaria Bonaduce, Aviva Burnstock, and Marion F. Mecklenburg.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cecil Krarup Andersen .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Andersen, C.K., Freeman, A., Mortensen, M.N., Beltran, V., Łukomski, M., Phenix, A. (2019). Mechanical and Moisture Sorption Properties of Commercial Artists’ Oil Paint by Dynamic Mechanical Thermal Analysis (DMA), Nanoindentation, and Dynamic Vapour Sorption (DVS). In: van den Berg, K., et al. Conservation of Modern Oil Paintings. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics