Towards a sustainable practice in paintings conservation: new insights into reducing solvent toxicity during cleaning and cold relining
Meeting Point #20
Conference at the initiative of the department of Fine Art Conservation and Restoration
In a time where urgent environmental issues demand bold changes, the conservation-restoration community is facing unprecedent challenges in order to reduce the impact of conservation practice on the environment and human health. The conferences that constitute this “Meeting Point” will present an overview of the promising results obtained by two former students from the Conservation-Restoration department of ENSAV-La Cambre who have recently investigated alternatives to reduce the human and environmental toxicity related to solvent use during the cleaning and cold relining of paintings. This “Meeting Point” has been organized in collaboration with the Escuela de Conservación y Restauración de Occidente (ECRO), from Guadalajara, Mexico.
1. Presentation of the Meeting Point – Dr. Isabel Villaseñor (ECRO) + Cécile de Boulard (La Cambre). 5 minutes.
2. Turning to Green Conservation for the Preservation of Culture Heritage. Bianca de Souza Gonçalves (La Cambre). 10 minutes + 10 minutes Q&A
According to UNESCO, cultural diversity is just as necessary as biodiversity. The preservation of humanity’s cultural heritage should thus be indissolubly linked to the preservation of the planet. Nonetheless, numerous current conservation-restoration practices are damaging to the environment: from high energy consumption to the use of toxic materials and/or treatments, and the production of considerable amounts of waste. Conservation-Restoration is thus a profession that is not yet suited to the most pressing ecological issues of our time. Fortunately, conservators-restorers are beginning to be aware of their environmental impact and to understand its causes. Thus, in the last few years, a desire has arisen to find solutions that can address both the needs of the objects and the urgency of reducing the negative impact of conservation practice on the environment. Indeed, sustainable research and alternative materials are being developed, while platforms allowing to share good practices have appeared. This presentation will introduce these matters and show that enhancing sustainability in the cultural heritage sector may definitely be a challenge, yet it is one we, as a professional community, must urgently tackle.
3. An introduction to less toxic approaches for the cleaning of paintings. The particular case of acrylics. Bianca de Souza Gonçalves. 20 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A
Research on artworks cleaning has fostered the emergence of a panoply of methods, techniques, and materials which offer alternatives to reduce the use of solvents and other toxic products. Gels and emulsions are nowadays some of the best solutions in conservation and restoration to approach a “greener” conservation practice. Agar, the Nanorestore gels, Pemulen TR-2, and Velvesil Plus appeared (at least in theory) as an excellent opportunity to bring green chemistry awareness to cultural heritage conservation-restoration and, more specifically, for the cleaning of acrylic emulsions. This presentation is based on the research conducted under the supervision of Prof. Cécile de Boulard (CROA - ENSAV, La Cambre) and Dr. Richard Wolbers (Heritage Scientist), which dealt with a series of experiments specifically designed to investigate the environmental and health impact, the physicochemical principles, the facility of preparation/application, and the treatment efficiency of the four gels mentioned above for the cleaning of acrylic paintings. This presentation will focus on how these gels work and how we can adapt them to different types of cleaning problematics, while including sustainability and environmental criteria.
4. Skirting the solvents' toxicity: the cold-lining of paintings by reactivation Clémence Teitgen. 20 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A
Solvents are massively employed during the treatments involved in the conservation of paintings. Some of them are considered “good solvents” because they allow to successfully perform the desired conservation treatments. Nonetheless, other important aspects such as their polarity, retention or human and environmental toxicity, are not always taken into consideration. This presentation will offer an overview of how to skirt the toxicity of aromatic solvents employed in the reactivation of an acrylic adhesive when performing a cold-lining by using efficient alternatives that are safe for the treated objects, conservators-restorers and the environment. Indeed, results obtained during a research project performed under the supervision of Prof. Cécile de Boulard (CROA - ENSAV, La Cambre) and Dr. Paolo Cremonesi (Heritage Scientist), allowed to outline radically less toxic mixtures of alcohols, esters or ketones and iso-octane which allow to obtain high lining strength efficiencies at similar or lower polarities than xylene. These solvent mixtures are not only interesting for this specific application, but xcould also be valuable for other conservation treatments.
5. Conclusions and final remarks. Francisco Mederos-Henry (La Cambre). 10 minutes.
— Bianca de Souza Gonçalves
Paintings conservator, Studio Redivivus, NL
Originally from Brazil, Bianca Gonçalves is currently a paintings conservator at Studio Redivivus in the Netherlands. She received a BA in conservation and restoration from the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal, and latter specialized in the conservation of easel and panel paintings through a MA at ENSAV La Cambre in Brussels.
— Clémence Teitgen
Freelance paintings conservator
Given a lifetime interest in sciences and art, Clémence Teitgen obtained a scientific Baccalauréat diploma followed by a Bachelor in Art and Archaeological History from the University of Strasbourg in France, where she was introduced to the conservation of historical monuments. After her B.A., she spent a year in Rome studying paintings’ conservation before starting her studies at the Conservation-Restoration department of ENSAV La Cambre, where she obtained her Master of Arts in 2020. She is now working as a freelance paintings conservator between Belgium and France.