Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

Application of novel synchrotron-based analysis techniques to study zinc white degradation in oil paint

Zinc white is a pigment that, due to its non-toxicity, was introduced as an alternative to lead white in the mid-19th century. It has been extensively used ever since, and can be found back in a wide range of works from painters such as Van Gogh, Mondrian, and Gauguin. Some disconcerting degradation phenomena, such as the delamination of paint layers, have been linked to the degradation of zinc white, making the understanding of its degradation processes a research topic of high interest.

In this project we aim to develop and apply novel analysis techniques that can provide a detailed understanding of the degradation of zinc white in oil paint. A close collaboration with IPANEMA allows for access to high-end synchrotron-based methodology, and the know-how with regards to its application to cultural heritage materials.

So far, we have been working most intensively on the combination of deep UV photoluminescence microscopy and microspectroscopy, as well as the interpretation of the datasets that are obtained using this technique. The datasets contain information of high lateral resolution and chemical specificity, which makes it possible to visualise degradation products, and discriminate between different types of zinc white, as well as various other pigments. Current experiments are aimed at chemically characterizing the various zinc compounds that are typically found in an aged zinc white paint film, using (μ-) EXAFS (Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure).


Matthieu Thoury & Solenn Reguer preparing an experiment at the Soleil synchrotron meant to study the chemical properties of aged zinc white oil paint model systems.

Principal researcher

Selwin Hageraats (Rijksmuseum)

Type of project


Participating researchers

  • Moniek Tromp (supervisor)
  • Mathieu Thoury (supervisor)
  • Katrien Keune (supervisor)
  • Lambert Baij
  • Annelies van Loon
  • Barbara Berrie

Institutions involved

  • Rijksmuseum
  • University of Amsterdam


Expected completion date

September 2020.

Funded by The Bennink Foundation.

Published by  NICAS

14 November 2017