Non-invasive analysis of materials from paintings by Paul Cezanne in the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery

Dr Costanza Milliani from MOLAB and Dr Aviva Burnstock examine Cezanne's Route Tournante, 1902-6

Dr Costanza Milliani from MOLAB and Dr Aviva Burnstock examine Cezanne's Route Tournante, 1902-6

In December 2006 the Courtauld Institute won a grant from EU-Artech to undertake a non-invasive study of the materials used by Cezanne and Renoir for three paintings in the Courtauld Institute Gallery.

The study of inorganic and organic materials used for painting is traditionally undertaken using a range of methods of analysis that require small paint samples to be taken from the works. The aim of the proposed project was to investigate the potential and limitations of selected non-invasive techniques for characterisation of inorganic pigments and organic materials from paintings examined in-situ in the Department of Conservation & Technology. A team of scientists specialising in the non-invasive analysis of works of art that form the MOLAB group, linked with the EU-Artech program based in Perugia, visited the Institute for three days. They brought with them, by lorry, portable instruments, including X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and laser Raman and FTIR fibre-optic spectroscopy. The results of the investigations include analysis of pigments, indicated by the identification of elements that can be linked with the chemical composition of the coloured materials in the paint, and information about the paint medium and surface coatings on the paintings.

The results can usefully be compared with information from traditional methods for technical study of painting materials, and will form the basis for further study of Cezanne’s paintings in the Gallery.

The visit of the MOLAB group that comprised a five-membered team from the University of Perugia was exciting and intense, involving the staff and students in the Department of Conservation & Technology, Conservation of Wall Paintings, John House, Graeme Barraclough, Ernst Vegelin and colleagues from the Institute for Cultural Heritage in the Netherlands, who were able to see the new application of these techniques first hand. Future collaboration between the MOLAB group and the Institute has been proposed, and second round of non –invasive investigations may be organised in the coming year.

Dr Aviva Burnstock
Head of Conservation and Technology