We know very little about long term behaviour and stability of modern paints used in works of art, for more than one reson: the variety of formulations, the many different ways artists experimented and applied them, their history which is extremely short in comparison of that of traditional binders...
To fully understand the characteristics of pictorial layers and the related conservation necessities not only we have to know if a painted surface is made with alkyd, vinyl or acrylic resin, but also if it was a solvent-based or a water-based paint. The film formation mechanism is different and the additives present in the two cases influence the film evolution. Modern artists have extensively used household paints also and not only artists’ materials, and in the conservation science laboratory it is practically impossible to reconstruct the complete formulation of industrial paints. Conservation problems can derive from physical and chemical properties of the surface, but also from interactions at the interfaces, between binder and ground, or between multiple paint layers created by artists and often made with different binder agents. The overall stability characteristics of principal types of modern paints will be summarized, with examples illustrating the complexity which may be found in the field. In practice, like in traditional oil paintings but with a larger variety of situations, each case should be carefully studied in order to help in developing appropriate preservation strategies. It is necessary to extend the investigations increasing the number of case studies and creating data bases with all possible information on the materials used by artists.
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