Restorers increase our knowledge of Krøyer

Research and Innovation

P.S. Krøyer’s use of the pigment, zinc white invested his Skagen beach paintings with their very special, luminous blue colour. But new research shows that the choice of colour may also help explain why the paintings’ layers of colour are now flaking off.

Several of P.S. Krøyer’s late, very popular paintings are in danger of losing their original layers of colour. The colour is flaking up in tent-like formations, and layers of colour are falling off in tiny pieces. Now, however, a group of researchers from Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Conservation, the Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation and the Art Conservation Centre have identified a possible explanation.

They have discovered that Krøyer switched to a more modern palette in the 1880s. For example, he started to use the then relatively new pigment, zinc white. Mixed with blue, it produced the special luminous, bright blue shades he used. This is the luminous effect we know from his popular beach pictures such as Summer Evening on Skagen’s Beach - The Artist and His Wife (1899). These are the findings in the article, ‘Zinc, Flaking and Harmony in Blue’, which has just been published in the journal, 'Perspectives'.

P.S. Krøyer: Sommeraften ved Skagen Strand

Zinc instead of lead causes problems
The main author of the article, Cecil Krarup Andersen, who is an Assistant Professor at the KADK School of Conservation, says: ”We examined eight paintings from the 1880s and 1890s and discovered that the late paintings contained the pigment, zinc white instead of lead white, which was the pigment traditionally used by artists. This coincides with the period when Kroyer created his popular blue beach paintings from Skagen. A few years ago, when American conservators proved that zinc white has a detrimental effect on paintings, it was our hypothesis that the zinc white pigment, which produced the most beautiful blue light, was Krøyer’s Achilles heel, and one of the reasons his paintings are disintegrating.” Several of Krøyer’s paintings have been treated with glue up to six times to retain the colour on the canvas.

Art challenges posterity
Mikkel Scharff, Head of Institute at the KADK School of Conservation says: “Krøyer’s use of the zinc white colour relates to the many new pigments, which were invented during the process of industrialisation, and people did not know what effects they would have. Artists were happy to experiment with the colours. You can compare this to today, when new materials are constantly being invented, whose durability no one knows. That means that conservators are facing a huge challenge, and a lot more research needs to be conducted in the area, if we are to preserve our modern art for posterity.”