Shell scientists swap fuels for paint to help National Gallery experts preserve historic works of art
Oct 14, 2014
Scientific tools and techniques used by the oil and gas industry to analyse the molecules in fuels are being used to establish the best conditions for preserving priceless works of art.
A collaboration between scientists at Shell and experts from the National Gallery in London will reveal why a red pigment fades over time more quickly than other colours. The pigment, called ‘Brazilwood Lake’ was commonly used in seventeenth century paintings, such as ‘Portrait of Frederik Rihel’, by celebrated Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn.
Specialist equipment housed at the Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam is central to this project. A Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer separates and partially characterises a component in the degraded Brazilwood Lake material. Secondly, a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer (NMR) is used to help the team investigate the molecular structure of the degradation component.
Wim Genuit, Senior Scientist, Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam and lead scientist on the project, said: “I never imagined that my scientific knowledge would be put to use in this way, but uncovering the secrets hidden within these magnificent canvases is an exciting challenge. I hope we can find out how to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.”
Betsy Wieseman, Curator of the exhibition at the National Gallery, commented: “There’s so much we can never know about art created hundreds of years ago but this collaboration between the National Gallery and Shell has helped us open a window on the past and gain a fresh insight to Rembrandt’s studio.”
Erik Bonino, Chairman, Shell UK, said: “Across our business we often see unlikely collaborations deliver creative thinking and innovation. A fresh perspective, or a different approach, can make all the difference when it comes to solving problems. I’m excited that we’ve found a novel way to use the technology and the scientists we have in Amsterdam. I hope it will deliver an important breakthrough.”
The collaboration underpins Shell’s sponsorship of Rembrandt: The Late Works exhibition, which runs at the National Gallery from October 15, 2014 to January 18, 2015.
Publicity images from the exhibition can be obtained from http://press.ng-london.org.uk .
Shell has a legacy of partnerships with artists. Find out about The Shell Art Collection .
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