Long-Term Chemical and Physical Processes in Oil Paint Films

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Erhardt, David; Mecklenburg, Marion F.; Tumosa, Charles S.;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 50, p.143-150 (2005)


Oil paints dry by polymerization. This 'drying' process may be substantially complete and the surface of the paint film dry to the touch within weeks, but measurable changes continue for years. Other, slower processes also continue, primarily hydrolysis of glyceride esters. This produces carboxylic acid groups as either free fatty acids (in the case of acid groups that have not reacted otherwise) or acid groups bound to the crosslinked oil matrix (in the case of acid groups that have engaged in polymerization reactions). These may react with pigments to form carboxylate salts (called soaps in the case of a fatty acid). These changes affect the physical properties of the paint and the way that conservation treatments affect it. This paper examines the extent of hydrolysis and soap formation in some naturally aged drying oil and paint films, the extractability of these materials in organic solvents, and measured and predicted changes over time in the physical properties of naturally aged paint films. Long-term physical and mechanical changes due to aging are minor compared to those produced by overcleaning or excessive exposure to heat.