Modelling clay materials used in artworks: an infrared spectroscopic investigation

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Heritage Science, 2019, 7 (1)
Issue Date:
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© 2019, The Author(s). Modelling clays are utilised by artists for their malleable properties. One of the challenges in managing collections containing such materials is the variety of commercial compositions available and, therefore, the variation in the requirements for storage and maintenance of such artefacts. The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia is responsible for the care of a range of artworks that contain modelling materials, some of which show detrimental property changes and there is concern for the longevity of such works. The aim of the current research is to determine the compositions of the modelling materials utilised in works produced by different artists in the gallery’s collection. Infrared spectroscopy was used to identify the main constituents of samples collected from the works of four different artists and a variety of material types were determined. Oil-based, air-hardening and polymer clays of varying composition were identified in the survey of artworks. Signs of deterioration in particular artworks were able to be characterised using spectroscopy, with the mechanisms identified including loss and oxidation of the oil component. Where a polymer clay was chosen by one artist, the distortion of the artwork was due to flow of the material over time and demonstrates the need for an understanding of the long term properties of the materials being used. The study has highlighted the need for conservators to have a detailed understanding of modelling materials to ensure the longevity of artworks containing this class of materials.
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