Can LEDs help with art conservation? – Impact of different light spectra on paint pigment degradation

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Manuela Lunz; Elise Talgorn; Jannie Baken; Wiebe Wagemans; Dirk Veldman;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 62, Number 5, p.294-303 (2017)


The impact of the spectral composition of light on the discoloration of paint pigments has been investigated for the case of lead chromate sulfate, an unstable yellow pigment used by Vincent van Gogh and other painters. With LEDification, museum lighting is moving from using halogen to LED lamps. LED light sources have a significantly different spectral composition than halogen lamps. To understand the impact of these differences on pigment stability, the wavelength dependence of pigment discoloration was determined. Contrary to the expectation that lower wavelength photons induce more damage than higher wavelength ones, UV (394 nm), blue, and cyan light all lead to similar levels of discoloration of a pigment for the same level of radiant power. By understanding this wavelength dependence, it becomes possible to create white light LED lamps with a spectral composition tuned to minimize the degradation effect. An existing LED solution with a modified emission indeed resulted in 30% less color change in the experiment than halogen. Furthermore, a method is proposed to optimize the LED spectra by tuning to the properties of each specific artifact. Simulations show that this can reduce the damage of the light source by 45% in specific cases.