Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

Fragile! Handle with care!

The prediction of damage for 18th-century pastels subjected to vibrations induced during transportation

Pastel paintings are considered one of the most fragile artworks. Because the medium is barely attached to the support, each movement is a risk. In theory, museums don’t lend pastels; but in practice, the number of exhibition including pastels increases, which means that pastels are moved.

Standards exist for light, relative humidity and temperature, but risks related to vibrations are still misunderstood and underestimated. A PhD was initiated in 2014 to provide standards for vibrations, in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and the Delft University of Technology.

Adopting a phenomenological approach, the present research aims at establishing a methodology to predict damage for 18th-century pastels subjected to vibrations induced during transportation. This will help conservators answering two questions: “What is the maximum vibration level acceptable for one transport?” and “How long and how many times can one pastel be transported this way?”

For the first time, the concept of fatigue life and cumulative damage will be brought from engineering into conservation, following three main research axes: the definition of failure, or unacceptable damage, as combination of visual perception and pastel surface properties; the characterization of vibration loads induced by transport; and the establishment of a relationship between pastels’ properties, vibration level, duration and damage.


Detail of a framed pastel (private collection, Norway) showing pastel loss after transport.

Principal researcher

Leila Sauvage (Rijksmuseum/Delft University of Technology)

Type of project


Participating researchers

  • Rinze Benedictus (supervisor)
  • Bill Wei (supervisor)
  • Marcias Martinez (supervisor)
  • William Sethares
  • Robert Erdmann

Institutions involved

  • Rijksmuseum
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
  • Wisconsin University

Expected completion date

October 2018.

Partially funded by the Migelien Gerritzen fund.

Published by  NICAS

14 November 2017