10 years ago: art analysis at the National Gallery


Soaps can form on the surface of paintings

The National Gallery in London has been carrying out a detailed study of tiny white inclusions in the surface of many of its paintings (dating from 13th to late 18th century). Using IR microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, energy-dispersive x-ray analysis and other techniques, researchers at the gallery have shown that these inclusions consist of lead soaps (especially lead azelate), which are the result of metal-based pigments reacting with the oil used to make paint. It is hoped that the results of these studies will influence decisions on the future storage, conservation and exhibition of valuable paintings.

Chemistry World (April 2004)

Ed. Formation of lead (and zinc) soaps on the surface of paintings has continued to be studied around the world, for example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, US, and at the UK’s National Gallery in 2013. For a recent article on soap formation on oil paintings, see J Catalano et al, Appl. Spectrosc., 2014, 68, 280 (DOI: 10.1366/13-07209).


Related Content

Masters of their art

25 June 2014 The Insider

news image

Nina Notman meets the National Gallery’s team of analysts, putting masterpieces under the microscope and protecting them fo...

The art detectives

27 June 2014 Premium contentFeature

news image

Spectroscopic techniques allow scientists to look over the shoulders of old masters. Emma Stoye reports

Most Commented

Rigid molecular wires make electrons fly

29 August 2014 Research

news image

Organic wires conduct electrons 800 times faster than other molecular counterparts by letting them hitch a ride on a vibratio...

Concerns over chemical treatment of reclaimed fracking fluid

29 August 2014 Research

news image

Current recycling procedure may do more harm than good