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Graphene Veil Protects Paintings from Fading

Friday, July 16, 2021

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According to a team of researchers, the implementation of a transparent graphene veil can prevent up to 70% of pigment fading in painted artworks.

Fading is a major issue oftentimes experienced by more historic paintings—such as Vincent van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers—as the paint used contains photosensitive lead pigments, or other types of coatings that are notably sensitive to ultraviolet light, moisture and air pollutants. In keeping with van Gogh’s Sunflowers example, the original bright yellow hues in the painting have transitioned to a greenish brown over time.

Typically in a museum, such sensitive paintings are protected from excess fading and exposure by being kept in dark storage and on a strict display schedule under low-energy lights. However, Narayan Khandekar, Director of the Straus Center for Consolation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums, U.S., further details that most paintings in private residences receive no such treatment.

Because of this issue, Khandekar finds that the idea of a protective graphene veil is “really compelling – it’s something that seems to mitigate a lot of light damage and its easily removed. So I think it has a lot of potential.”

Protecting Artwork

Although paintings are often protected by a layer of specialized resin or varnish, researchers are taking things a step further to see how paintings might better interact with graphene protection.

Leader of the protective graphene veil study, Costas Galiotis of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas in Greece, adds that while the exact amount of protection depends on the colors and the pigment substrate within a painting, “this corresponds approximately to 200 years of exposure under the conditions encountered in museums or other exhibition environments.”

“Graphene absorbs a considerable amount of ultraviolet light, depending on the number of layers, and is a very good barrier against oxygen and moisture,” Galiotis explains. “It prevents color fading by simultaneously reducing the incident harmful radiation and by delaying the diffusion of oxidizing agents.”

JackF / Getty Images

According to a team of researchers, the implementation of a transparent graphene veil can prevent up to 70% of pigment fading in painted artworks.

For their research, Galiotis and his team created a machine capable of applying the graphene veil to a painting through the use of atomically-thin graphene lattices grown by vapor deposition on a copper substrate. The lattices are then transferred onto adhesive film where two rollers gently press the painting and the film together, and then remove the film, leaving only the graphene layer.

Once applied, the team then exposed color disks protected by the veil of graphene to an artificial aging process involving high levels of light, warmth and humidity exposure. In addition, the researchers also examined the effects on a painting—Indian inks on glossy paper—covering one half with their graphene veil while leaving the other unprotected.

After being exposed within the aging chamber for more than 100 hours, the team found that unprotected colors had noticeably faded, while colors under the protection of the veil appeared to hold up successfully.

Art conservation scientist Stephen Hackney, formerly of the Tate Gallery in London, U.K., reports that there is still work to be done and that conservators will need “full knowledge” of the materials used on a painted artwork and how they behave.

“This is a tall order, but a valid requirement that makes innovation difficult.” Adding that, while the protective graphene veil seems promising, “in my experience it takes a relatively long time for new materials to be accepted and adopted, and it is often the practical procedures, rather than the materials themselves, that need most thought.”

Artwork Restoration

Last year, the partnership of global coatings company AkzoNobel and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam released an update regarding the restoration of Rembrandt’s masterpiece “The Night Watch.” The entities originally announced the partnership in the summer of 2019, and work on the 377-year-old painting began on July 8.

By February of the following year, AkzoNobel and the Rijksmuseum stated that they had identified three key areas to focus on as the collaboration starts to gather pace.

“The Rijksmuseum continually monitors the condition of The Night Watch, and we’ve discovered that changes are occurring, such as blanching on the figure of the dog in the lower right of the painting,” said General Director of the Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits.

“To gain a better understanding of its condition as a whole, the decision has been taken to conduct a thorough examination. So, we’re extremely grateful to AkzoNobel, as the work that’s being carried out with their support is vital.”

Working encased in a glass chamber (to keep the painting displayed for the museum), the team said that it will first take about 11,400 high resolution photographs of the painting. Then, special scanners will look at cracks and crevices while a laser examines the pigments. The hope is that all of those images will give workers what they need to proceed.

AkzoNobel called the undertaking “the most innovative restoration in the history of art.”

The process seeks to answer questions such as: How was the painting made? What was the original appearance of the painting intended by Rembrandt? What is the current condition of The Night Watch? What type of paint alterations have taken place and why?

In their most recent update, scientists from both parties have revealed the following key areas that they’ll be focusing on for the next two years:

  • Recreating Rembrandt’s impastos (the technique of laying on paint so thickly that it stands out from the surface) - Understanding how Rembrandt created his famous impastos will involve gaining a better insight into the relationship between rheology (the study of the flow of matter in a liquid state or as a soft solid) and practical paint-application behavior. Three different pigmented impasto paints found in Rembrandt’s work will be selected and investigated from different perspectives.
  • Designing custom color calibration – This is to improve the photograph and digitization of the paining, which has become common issue with professional photographs of The Night Watch and other 17th century Dutch paintings. These images tend to show a consistent brightening of dark areas in the artworks, which misrepresents those paintings on photographs in museum catalogs and other publications, the entities said.
  • Improving the viewing experience – To help enhance the viewing experience of the painting, the plan is to analyze hyperspectral and spectroradiometer data and use physics-based simulations to propose changes in the local lighting that could be used to improve the visibility of the painting.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to contribute our color expertise to an historic project,” said AkzoNobel’s Senior Color Scientist, Eric Kirchner. “The Night Watch is an iconic painting, not only in Dutch culture, but in the whole history of art. So being involved says a lot about us being the reference in the industry.”


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating Application - Commercial; Coating chemistry; Coatings; Coatings Technology; Color + Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fading; Graphene; Latin America; North America; Research and development; Z-Continents

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (7/16/2021, 12:36 PM)

This just sets off warning bells for me. I know graphene is getting rave reviews and is making its way into everything...but a thin layer of nano-scale particles that's "easily removed" sounds a lot like a super friable version of asbestos (another "miracle product" from the past). I just hope we have learned from the past and don't need to add "carbonosis" or "grapheneosis" to silicosis and asbestosis in the future.

Comment from Regis Doucette, (7/19/2021, 3:37 AM)

Engineered nanoparticles are of concern despite Safety Data Sheets' "no data available" for all key categories of human safety. Studies show tiny particles of certain rigidities and shapes with jagged edges can invade a human's body and not be swiftly removed. The bio-accumulation risk logically extends to the nervous system and brain cells, which if interfered with will endanger that organism’s functioning properly. This is a highly relevant issue given that these coatings often require a recoating effort in a short term. Where do these non-visible nanoparticles created in bulk go to? If you were applying a layer of ball bearings to a surface, but some fell off the substrate, you would know to avoid improper contact with them scattered on the floor. Given that the Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances is now a private and non-governmental body, I await authentic revelations about perceived lucrative endeavors that have been documented to have consequences in organic life. There are studies of how graphene does harm while its big brother, graphite, also has associated ill-effect dangers to workers that require the best masks possible. A healthy analogy here is the risk of drinking unfiltered medicines from our neighbors in water waste/water treatments. With these “wonder drugs” for our environment called nanoparticles, more uninvited risk inside of us will be mortgaging our future in a bad way.

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