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MITRA Forum Question Details

Image Picker for Section 0


  • Oil paint failureApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2020-08-01 14:52:48 ... Most recent comment 2020-08-02 16:32:00
    Art Conservation Topics Grounds / Priming Oil Paint

    Hi all,

    I've just come back from Mallorca, Spain visiting my parents in law. I noticed one of the paintings they had in their house had quite substantial cracking (mostly in light areas.. zinc white?) and paint adhesion failure.

    The painting was dated with the signature to 1944 and received a lot of indirect (or direct) sunlight and high temperatures.

    I just thought it was interesting how badly the paint film was doing. I'm not sure if the canvas was primed correctly either?


Answers and Comments

  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment


    2020-08-01 14:56:47
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    There is general and severe cracking as well as a lack of adhesion between the canvas and ground. There are many possible reasons for this include faulty and too slick of a size layer, brittle ground materials, possibly a result of zinc oxide but it could be other things including the use of overly lean glue or even stack containing grounds. It is impossible to really pinpoint the cause without extensive testing and a survey of works by the same artist.

    Brian Baade
    2020-08-01 15:32:30
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​If that's actually the ground layer exposed and not some pale slick synthetic flat weave canvas.  Then I don't think a brittle underlayer has telegraphed through to the painting layer because this seems free of cracks.  

    Back in the mid century, I'd reason most (though not all) white oil paint contained some degree of zinc oxide, including the Flake whites.  In as much as one can tell from one photo.  I think this failure is due to a brittle zinc oxide containing paint layer, subject to environmental extremes (as you say to periods of heat. (There doesn't appear to be the patterns of pressure cracking))  on a surface that provided poor adhesive qualities.  If there was a better ground, I'M GUESSING there would still be cracks, but less delamination.  

    With a lot of guesstimation,  Marc.

    2020-08-01 16:41:53
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    I am reading that as a bleached fabric. If it is the exposed ground, that would certainly point to problems with the paint itself. One of reasons for this could very likely be zinc white. It could also too lean paint applied over a slicker ground.

    This can also occur when a very fine has a thin ground making a very flimsy fabric and over this the artist applies a very thick application of paint. As the paint become more brittle overtime it flakes and delaminates.

    The paint could be desiccated due an overly dry or hot environment. I have seen similar appearing conditions when a painting has been baking under on of those picture lights. The damage is focused on the very spot under the circle of hot light.  It is very easy to always point to zinc oxide, and it has caused major issues, but there a thousands of paintings executed with the pigment since the 19th century that are not necessarily falling apart. It could obviously be the problem here, I just can't diagnose this from an isolated photo.

    Brian Baade
    2020-08-01 17:24:25
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Thank you both!

    I didn't get a photo of the whole painting. But this one shows a larger area. I couldn't see the paint failure and cracking in the lighter blue-green areas or some of the darkers. The paint layers in parts were quite thick too, although the painting seemed very matte (even the impasto areas).

    2020-08-02 01:07:27
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​From the second picture I can more clearly see what I now interpret to be a light weight canvas which would of had a very open mesh like nature and then had a white primer applied/pushed into it to fill the weave gaps.  The weave still standing proud and somewhat visible after the priming.  You can see the brown and green paint just skipping across the weave tops in thinly painted spots.

    2020-08-02 02:26:02
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​I can see other areas where the tan coloured canvas is appearing through the paint. I can't see any white priming.. would it be raw canvas, or maybe a clear oil primer/ground?


    2020-08-02 07:18:25
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    The image quality is not good enough for me to make a definitive statement but the lacuna appear to me to be raw canvas. Again, there is little more that I can say using these images.  

    Brian Baade
    2020-08-02 16:32:00

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