Imperial engineers research crack formation in wooden paintings


Painting on wood panel

A painting on wood panel: "On the River Bank", attributed to Henry Bright

Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow received funding from EPSRC for research on how cracks appear in artwork painted on wood.

The three-year project is conducted in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial (Principal Investigator: Dr Maria Charalambides, Co-Investigators: Dr Ambrose Taylor and Dr Daniel Balint), following a £670,000 joint grant in collaboration with the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at Glasgow (PI: Dr Christina Young).

The project is supported and steered by partners at the National Trust, the National Gallery, London and Akzo Nobel. The aim of this research is to determine how cracks caused by environmental conditions eventually lead to damage of the painted surface.

Loss of the image or motif results in changes of the work’s aesthetic and meaning for the viewer. For over four decades, environmental guidelines for museums and institutions have been defined within narrow parameters. Conditions for multi-layer painted wooden objects in particular are amongst the most tightly controlled.

The research will develop methods for predicting the fatigue lifetime of panel paintings and related cultural heritage. It will therefore help collections to define strategies for efficient environmental control, which has become essential in light of the future energy crisis and a rising awareness of green technology. The work also has direct relevance to other coating applications such as the marine and protective coating market.

Image: "On the River Bank", attributed to Henry Bright. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery; available under CC BY-NC-ND licence


Nadia Barbu

Nadia Barbu
Department of Mechanical Engineering