The "sticky business" of conserving old paintings


The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University (NYU) and The University of Akron’s (UA) School of Polymer Science and Engineering have joined forces for a major research project to identify improved lining adhesives for the conservation of canvas paintings, from Old Masters to Modern and Contemporary artists. The research is supported by a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of its Conserving Canvas initiative, which focuses on expanding knowledge and skills for the structural care of paintings on canvas.

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Former Conservation Center students perform overall humidification and flattening of a nineteenth-century portrait. Sarah Mastrangelo (center) operates a heated suction table while Hae Min Park (left) and Kimberly Frost (right) monitor the painting's surface and gently manipulate the canvas with their hands. Image: Kristin Patterson.

The research partnership addresses a critical need to develop a satisfactory replacement for the original formulation of Beva 371, the industry standard for lining adhesion for paintings conservation that is no longer supported by available commercial ingredients. Conservators and scientists will work together to fine-tune and optimize adhesion performance and tailor the strength of the new lining adhesive products to minimize risks to the many types of paintings on canvas.

This multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary project will be overseen by NYU Professor Michele D. Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation and chair of the Conservation Center during the grant period, and Christopher McGlinchey, senior research scholar at NYU’s Conservation Center and the initiative’s project director.

The project was developed in response to recommendations from leading experts in the field following a convening in 2019 of the international paintings conservation community, the Conserving Canvas Symposium organized by the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University, in addition to Getty Foundation support.

“The Getty Foundation’s generous grant brings together two industrious institutions at the cutting edge of museum work and applied macromolecular chemistry,” remarked Marincola.

McGlinchey notes, “The Linings Adhesive project has all the promise of fulfilling a crucial need in the conservation field. We aim as well to take advantage of the emerging trend of bespoke polymer structure, something perfectly suited for the demanding but limited scale that conservation materials comprise for the chemical industry. The award affirms the Conservation Center at NYU continues to lead the field of identifying the qualities of those carefully tailored conservation materials.”

The two-year project involves an expansion of personnel to include two postgraduate fellows: a Getty Conserving Canvas Research Fellow based at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, and a Getty Conserving Canvas Science Fellow based at The University of Akron. The Fellows will work under the direction of Marincola, McGlinchey, NYU’s Clinical Professor Dianne Modestini, UA's Ali Dhinojwala, interim director of the School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, and UA's Abraham Joy, professor of polymer science.

Dhinojwala observed, “We are excited to collaborate with the IFA Conservation Center at New York University on this innovative project. Our goals are to develop new adhesive formulations for adhering paintings on canvas. We already have several key ideas on how to formulate the next generation of adhesives and are looking forward to working with a talented cross-disciplinary group of experts. The sharing of expertise amongst our two institutions and colleagues will result in innovative research that will have a significant impact on the future approach to the conservation of canvas paintings.”

The project begins with an experts’ kick-off meeting conducted virtually in late September 2021. As research progresses, the team will hold two additional expert meetings in 2022 and 2023 in New York and Florence, Italy that will document, share, and archive the work of the program with the goal of disseminating and providing access to technical scholarship of adhesion science. There will also be a workshop for practicing conservators in the summer of 2023.

Additional project team members include senior conservators from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art and adhesion scientists from Virginia Tech, Paris Tech, and Delft University of Technology’s Adhesion Institute. Conservation scientists from SUNY Buffalo State College, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and the University of Amsterdam will also participate. The program is working with industrial partner CTS Conservation.

"Conservation has always been a core area of our grantmaking,” said Antoine Wilmering, senior program officer at the Getty Foundation who oversees the Conserving Canvas initiative. “This project is an exciting and essential step forward in identifying a viable alternative to Beva 371. The paintings conservation community worldwide will be eagerly awaiting the results.”

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or