In danger of deteriorating, canvases with works of art from artists like van Gogh, Vermeer and Picasso, to name just a few, may get a helping hand from nanomaterials.

Typically made from cellulose-based fibers, canvases can show signs of aging by eventually wrinkling, discoloring, tearing and retaining moisture.

One current solution to the problem used by painting conservators involves placing a layer of adhesive and lining behind the work of art. Yet, this method can often prove invasive and irreversible.

Previously, a team, including Romain Bordes and colleagues from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, examined whether nanocellulose could fortify the canvases and their surfaces. Additionally, they demonstrated that silica nanoparticles could fortify individual paper and cotton fibers. As such, they thought that combining the two processes could potentially strengthen an aging canvas.

After combining polyelectrolyte-treated silica nanoparticles (SNP) with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) in a one-step process, the team applied acid and oxidizing conditions to a canvas to mimic the aging process.

Applying the SNP-CNF solution, the SNP penetrated and fortified the individual fibers of the canvas, creating a stiffer material compared to untreated canvases. Likewise, the CNF fortified the canvas surface, increasing the flexibility of the canvas.

The team concluded that this method could offer a suitable alternative to current methods.

Their findings are detailed in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.

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