BSc. Neurobiology 1981 (University of Sussex); Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Painting Courtauld Institute (1984), PhD Courtauld Institute (1991)

Contact details:

Department of Conservation & Technology

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House





+44 (0)20 7848 2192


Dr Aviva Burnstock
Aviva Burnstock is the Head of the Department of Conservation & Technology at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she took a Ph.D. (1991) and a Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings (1984). From 1986-1992 she worked in the Scientific Department of the National Gallery, London after a year as a paintings conservator in Australia with the Regional Galleries Association of New South Wales. Her first degree is in Neurobiology (BSc. University of Sussex 1981). She was awarded the first Joop Los Fellowship at the Institute for Molecular Physics (AMOLF /FOM) Amsterdam in 2003, and is a Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC).

Current research/interests:

  • Technical study of paintings
  • Research into the materials and techniques of painting, and conservation processes (e.g. methods for cleaning paintings)

Current projects include

Modern Oils Research Consortium


Twentieth and twenty first century oil paintings and painted surfaces present a range of complex treatment challenges to conservators that are distinct from those noted from previous centuries.


These include the formation of 'surface skins' of medium on painted surfaces, efflorescence, water and solvent sensitivity and the recent phenomena where previously stable surfaces begin to drip. Modern oil paints are used by artists in the creation of paintings and sculpture and many of these surfaces are unvarnished and exposed directly to the environment.


In response to the need for research in this area, Tate, The Courtauld Institute of Art, The Getty Conservation Institute, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and Hamilton Kerr Institute have come together, committed to work collaboratively to address these issues.


These five organisations have signed a memorandum of understanding formalising this commitment to work together and to share knowledge about: the chemical and physical properties of Modern Oil Paints and their behaviour over time, the development of treatments, research relating to the use of these materials by artists and also the production and take up of modern oil paints in the twentieth and twenty first century.

The members of the consortium will meet regularly to exchange information on current research and will also seek opportunities to develop scholarly research, create opportunities for the exchange of staff and the sharing of equipment. They will also look for ways of communicating new developments via conferences, symposia and publications.

Recent and Forthcoming publications

Silvester, G., Burnstock, A., Megens, L., Learner, T., Chiari, G., van den Berg, K J., ‘A cause of water-sensitivity in modern oil paint films: The formation of magnesium sulphate’, Studies in Conservation,  Vol. 59 (1), 2014, 38-51.


Issues in Contemporary Oil Paint, Klaas Jan van den Berg, Aviva Burnstock, Matthijs de Keijzer, Jay Krueger, Tom Learner, Alberto de Tagle,and Gunnar Heydenreich Eds, Springer International Publns Switzerland (2015) in proof


Includes the following chapters:


Aviva Burnstock and Klaas Han van den Berg, The Interface Between Science and Conservation and the Challenges for Modern Oil Paint Research

Alysia Sawicka, Aviva Burnstock, Klaas Jan van den Berg, Francesca Izzo, Katrien Keune, Jaap Boon and Kathrin Kirsch, Metal soap efflorescence in contemporary oil painting,


Anna Cooper, Aviva Burnstock,  Klaas jan van den Berg, Bronwyn Ormsby,  Water Sensitive Oil Paints in the 20th Century: A study of the distribution of water-soluble degradation products in modern oil paint films.


Technical study of paintings


Recent application of novel imaging techniques using Near IR of paintings in the Courtauld Gallery has revealed aspects of the artists’ materials and techniques, including George Seurat’s self-portrait in the underlying paint layers from Young Woman Powdering Herself (1888-90).



Aviva Burnstock and Karen Serres, ‘Seurat’s Hidden Self-portrait’,
The Burlington Magazine, Volume CLVI number 1333 April 2014 p240-242.


Seurats hidden self-portrait


Portrait of Cromwell's mother


Making art in Tudor Britain


Aviva Burnstock has collaborated together with Professor Maurice Howard (University of Sussex) and a team of conservators, curators and historians in a research project led by Tarnya Cooper at the National Portrait Gallery that included technical study of more than 100 paintings made in Britain from the Tudor and Jacobean period, including works at the NPG and associated comparables. She is a contributing editor in a forthcoming book that discusses the findings. Some of the results of the project can be found on the NPG website.

Forthcoming book: Painting in Britain 1540-1620, British Academy publication.

Recent publications:


Caroline Rae and Aviva Burnstock, A technical study of portraits of King James VI and I attributed to John de Critz the Elder (d.1642): artist, workshop and copies in European Paintings 15th-18th Century, Copying, Replicating and Emulating, Centre for Art Technological Studies (CATS) Copenhagen, 2014, p58-66.


Aviva Burnstock, Christine Sitwell, Catherine Daunt and Sarah FreemanA room transposed, the Kings Room at Westwood Manor, Wiltshire, UK’, The Decorative: Conservation and the Applied Arts, IIC London 2012


Technical study and conservation of paintings from the Tata collection at CSMVS Mumbai


The Department of conservation and Technology have collaborated with the Centre for Art Conservation at CSMVS Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay Museum Mumbai, (from December 2009); in relation to the technical study and conservation of a major work by Antoine Dubost, The Sword of Damocles.

Courses taught in 2014-15

Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings

PhD titles/ RECENT postgraduate research supervised



  • The cause of water sensitivity in modern British oil paints (Tate Collaborative postdoctoral award)
  • Inherent Vice: The Deterioration and Conservation of Ephemeral Contemporary Art
  • Anglo-Netherlandish Workshop Practice in the 1590s and early 1600s with a focus on the works of John de Critz the Elder and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
  • Technical study within Art Historical Scholarship: 'Meaning in Making' with particular reference to the works of Paul Cézanne
  • Materials and meaning: Arthur Dove's works on paper.


  • The use of coloured glazes in Baroque churches in Bavaria, c1700-1800)
  • Materials and Techniques of selected paintings by Malevitch and Popova from the Costakis Collection.
  • The application of laser induced fluorescence spectroscopy (LIFS) for analysis of proteins from works of art.
  • Collaboration between artists of the Barbizon School on landscape paintings.
  • Sally Higgs, An investigation into the migration of lead ions into varnish layers (2015)
  • Morgan Wylder Re-examination of Gauguin paintings from the Courtauld Collection (2015)
  • Sarah Bayliss, An investigation into separation of paint and migration of oil in works of Erik Oldenhof; possible treatment methods (2015)
  • Roxane Sperber, Materials and Techniques of the Master of the Fogg Pietà: A Technical Study of an Italian Altarpiece (2014)
  • Douglas MacLennan, The use of portable XRF with Multispectral Scanning Imaging for the technical study of Georges Seurat's La Femme qui se poudre in the Courtauld Gallery (2014)
  • Final Year Project: Cleo Nisse William Egley's manuscript: theory and practice (2013)
  • Final Year Project: Alysia Sawicka strategies for removing metal soap hazes from paintings (2013)
  • Final Year project: Judith Lee The effects to of alkaline reagents used for cleaning on Prussian blue oil paint films (2012)
  • Final Year project: Sarah Freeman The Kings Room at Westwood Manor (2012)
  • Final year project Amy Cooper The role of magnesium sulphate compounds in the water sensitivity of modern artists oil paints (2012)
  • Final year project Luciana Akerlund: The effects of moisture gradients on the migration of fatty acid efflorescence in paint films (2012).


Conservation of paintings, technical art history, analysis of painting materials, technical examination of paintings, conservation materials and methods.