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Modern Paints: Examining the Choices

Numerous types of "modern" paints have been developed in the twentieth century, and the vast majority, including those intended for household or industrial market, are likely to have been used on works of art...

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Although an artist’s choice of paint - and the way it was applied - is the subject of much research and documentation, there is also a clear need to better understand how all these different paints behave and how their use will affect their future conservation. Each type of paint is likely to display different characteristics and properties, for example with aging, with specific display conditions, and with any conservation treatment. In this presentation, an overview of the salient features of the main types of paint available since 1930 will be given, discussing examples of their use and summarizing the procedures that can be used to discover which paint type was used on a particular work. Although the subject is vast and complex, a reasonably good generalization can be achieved by classifying the principal types of paint into two main groups: artists’ paints, predominantly acrylic and oil; and house paints, usually alkyd and polyvinyl acetate. A number of methods are available for discovering which type of paint has been used, primarily analysis, interaction with the artist, documentation, and examination. Each of these will be discussed in terms of their particular advantages and disadvantages.

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