Revealing the Nature and Distribution of Metal Carboxylates in Jackson Pollock’s Alchemy (1947) by Micro-Attenuated Total Reflection FT-IR Spectroscopic Imaging
Protrusions, efflorescence, delamination, and opacity decreasing are severe degradation phenomena affecting oil paints with zinc oxide, one of the most common white pigments of the 20th century. Responsible for these dramatic alterations are the Zn carboxylates (also known as Zn soaps) originated by the interaction of the pigment and the fatty acids resulting from the hydrolysis of glycerides in the oil binding medium. Despite their widespread occurrence in paintings and the growing interest of the scientific community, the process of formation and evolution of Zn soaps is not yet fully understood. In this study micro-attenuated total reflection (ATR)–FT-IR spectroscopic imaging was required for the investigation at the microscale level of the nature and distribution of Zn soaps in the painting Alchemy by J. Pollock (1947, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice) and for comparison with artificially aged model samples. For both actual samples and models, the role of AlSt(OH) 2 , a jellifying agent commonly added in 20th century paint tube formulations, proved decisive for the formation of zinc stearate-like (ZnSt 2 ) soaps. It was observed that ZnSt 2 -like soaps first form around the added AlSt(OH) 2 particles and then eventually grow within the whole painting stratigraphy as irregularly shaped particles. In some of the Alchemy samples, and diversely from the models, a peculiar distribution of ZnSt 2 aggregates arranged as rounded and larger particles was also documented. Notably, in one of these samples, larger agglomerates of ZnSt 2 expanding toward the support of the painting were observed and interpreted as the early stage of the formation of internal protrusions. Micro-ATR–FT-IR spectroscopic imaging, thanks to a very high chemical specificity combined with high spatial resolution, was proved to give valuable information for assessing the conservation state of irreplaceable 20th century oil paintings, revealing the chemical distribution of Zn soaps within the paint stratigraphy before their effect becomes disruptive. Graphic Abstract ACS Electronic Supporting Info
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