In the twentieth century traditional oil paints were often substituted by or used together with recently developed industrial materials, which are composed of extenders, stabilizers, and fillers in addition to the pigments and/or dyes.

The study on Max Ernst involved a multi-analytical non-invasive investigation of six oil paintings in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection: The Kiss (Le Baiser), 1927; Zoomorphic Couple (Couple zoomorphe), 1933; Garden Airplane Trap (Jardin gobe avions) 1935–36; The Entire City (La Ville entière), 1936–37; Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée), 1940; The Antipope, December 1941–March 1942.

The research focused on studying the artist’s palette, identifying previous restoration treatments, and evaluating the overall state of conservation of the paintings mentioned above. The study covered a broad range of techniques—such as frottage, grattage and decalcomania—that Ernst employed between 1927 and 1941. The findings offered a broad overview of Ernst’s materials and more information on the evolution of his pictorial technique. The research was carried out in collaboration with CNR-ICMATE, Padova, and ICCOM-CNR, Pisa.

The multi-analytical approach involved portable instruments, such as External Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (ER-FT-IR), X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), Raman spectroscopy and Vis-NIR multispectral imaging. The investigation revealed the evolution of Ernst’s materials and his free use of them (traditional and/or new synthetic products). Information on preparatory drawings and pentimenta was also gained, in some cases through the Vis-IR multispectral imaging. Moreover, analysis showed some instances of deterioration, such as metal carboxylates and oxalates.

The study proved that an integrated diagnostic approach based on non-destructive techniques is appropriate and suitable to obtain a good knowledge of modern oil paintings.

Web resource: Journal of Cultural Heritage, An integrated diagnostic approach to Max Ernst's painting materials in his "Attirement of the Bride"