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Protecting and stimulating effect on the degradation of eosin lakes. Part 1: Lead white and cobalt blue

Publication date:

September 2018

Source:Microchemical Journal, Volume 141

Author(s): Alba Alvarez-Martin, Koen Janssens

An important problem encountered during the preservation of paintings and other artworks is the fading of the original colors due to exposure of the colorants to light. This fact is clearly evidenced in some of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings in which an organic red, eosin or geranium lake, is present. The identification of eosin and the characterization of its degradation products in paintings represents a challenge because of (i) the generally low concentration of the pigment remaining after an aging period of ca 100 years, (ii) the scarcity of the paint micro samples available for analysis and the difficulty of obtaining additional ones and (iii) the complexity of the degradation behavior of eosin when it is mixed with organic or inorganic pigments, binding media or varnish. This study presents an accelerated aging experiment of eosin paint models in order to understand better the discoloration process; more specifically the influence of different metals with which eosin forms complexes and of the presence of admixture pigments such as lead white and cobalt blue on the lightfastness of eosin is evaluated. Paint model samples were prepared using eosin, lead white, and cobalt blue in different mixing ratios and were characterized with several techniques before and after aging. The possible formation of intermediate molecular forms during the aging experiment and the influence of pigment ratios on the discoloration process were monitored at periodic intervals using a combination of UV–Visible and attenuated total Reflectance-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopies. Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy coupled to energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX) and optical microscopy (OM) analyses were performed to gain information about the discoloration processes taking place within the paint models. Eosin precipitated on lead, aluminum and potassium/aluminum salts was used. These three lakes showed similar discoloration rates under light exposure. In contrast, the presence and relative abundance of the admixture pigments lead white and cobalt blue had a significant influence on the (speed of the) eosin discoloration process. The presence of lead white and cobalt blue appears to stimulate the eosin degradation. However, the cobalt blue shows less influence in the discoloration process, showing a protective effect during the first stages of the aging. This may be qualitatively explained in terms of the ability of lead white to scatter light towards eosin molecules and the absorption characteristics of cobalt blue in the green range of the electromagnetic spectrum, shielding eosin from incoming light. The color changes observed in the paint reconstructions are similar to discoloration phenomena visible in some Van Gogh paintings and can offer an explanation of the gradual discoloration process that took place over the years. These insights will be helpful to estimate the original hues color used/intended by the artist.

Authors:   Author(s): Alba Alvarez-Martin, Koen Janssens
Journal:   Microchemical Journal
Volume:   141
Year:   2018
Pages:   51
DOI:   10.1016/j.microc.2018.05.005
Publication date:   20-May-2018
Facts, background information, dossiers
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  • scanning electron m…
  • salts
  • absorption
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