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Conservation of Acrylic Paintings

4 thoughts on “Conservation of Acrylic Paintings”

  1. So practice proved acrylics are not reliable, and you reject on the grounds and running a research that is not finished yet. Even if it ended up successfully and we could paint today with tomorrow acrylics we have no idea for what problems you’ll have to re-research successfully to be able to archive the painting for an additional 20 years. All this when the cheap and tested tempera is around, or the very high quality oil based paint is around.

    • Hi Mircea –

      Sorry for the delay in responding. The first thing we would point out is that this article was written some 17 years ago and since then the field of cleaning and conservation of acrylic paintings has advanced significantly. It truly has become a major field or research, and the number of papers, books, conferences, and symposiums covering these issues would constitute a sizeable literature of its own. Just to share some of the more publicly accessible pieces:

      2004, Conservation Concerns for Acrylic Emulsion Paints: A Literature Review

      2010, Modern Paints Uncovered, Getty Conservation Institute, in particular, see: From Formulation to Finished Product: Causes and Potential Cures for Conservation Concerns in Acrylic Emulsión Paints, in Modern Paints Uncovered, pp 58-65

      2012, The Cleaning of Acrylic Paint Surfaces, WAAC Newsletter, Volume 34 Number 3, pp.18-23

      2013, New Insights into the Cleaning of Paintings Proceedings from the Cleaning 2010, International Conference Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and Museum Conservation Institute.

      In particular, see some of these articles:

      • Multitechnique Approach to Evaluate Cleaning Treatments for Acrylic and Polyvinyl Acetate Paints., p 125
      • Extended Abstract—A Preliminary Study into the Effects of Cleaning Polyvinyl Acetate Paints, p.135
      • The Modular Cleaning Program in Practice: Application to Acrylic Paintings p.139
      • Cleaning of Acrylic Emulsion Paints: Preliminary Extractive Studies with Two Commercial Paint Systems p.147
      • Surfactants and Acrylic Dispersion Paints: Evaluating Changes Induced by Wet Surface Cleaning Treatments p.159
      • Extended Abstract—Effects of Solvents on the Physical Properties of Polymeric Films p.165

      Do these pieces document challenges and issues? Absolutely – that is, after all, the very nature and role of conservation science. But please understand that even the substantial literature that has grown up around acrylics is dwarfed many times over by the number of articles, books, and conferences covering issues and problems with oils and tempera paintings. Some of that is the fact that those media have been around longer, and thus more likely in need of continual repair, as well as the fact that those fields have undergone similar revolutions in conservation technology and understanding. In fact, the whole field of cleaning paintings in general – oil, acrylic, and tempera – has been undergoing a massive rethinking based in part on the work of Richard Wolbers. If you search for his name, and cleaning of painting, you will quickly find any number of references and publications focused on oils as well as acrylics. Anyway, the long and short of it is simply that it is not that any one medium or another is better in this regard – they each bring challenges to the conservator needing to clean and repair them. And their labor, in turn, provides the illusion and magic that these pieces have come down to us in pristine shape.

      In terms of your implication that somehow acrylics are less durable or permanent than oils and tempera, that simply is not borne out by the science or the research. If anything acrylics are proving more chemically stable in many regards. And while it is always easy to point to any new media and claim it has not been as time tested as older historical ones, certainly you realize that all mediums, including oils and tempera, were themselves at one point new. And when they burst on the scene, they brought with them new possibilities and modes of expression that were, in their way, experimental and with no track record to point to. Acrylics are simply the most recent – albeit 70 years old – addition to that family of mediums, and we are proud of being a part of that story through our GOLDEN Acrylics as well as through our Williamsburg Handmade Oils and even more recently, with the introduction of our QoR watercolors based on a new binder that we feel is better than the traditional gums.

      Thank you again for your comments. We are always open and interested in discussing concerns about art materials, and sharing what we know of the research in all these areas, so please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have further questions: ssands@goldenpaints.com


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