Press release | 23 October 2020 | sn

When layers of paint become detached from famous paintings

Vibration expert Professor Kerstin Kracht is examining the destructive effect of vibrations and impacts on artworks to develop preventative conservation solutions

Piet Mondrian’s famous triptych “Evolution” has now become a focus of research at TU Berlin. Using this painting and working together with Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Professor Kerstin Kracht is looking to examine the effects of fatigue fracture and ongoing vibrations on oil paintings painted on textiles where zinc soap has formed in the paint.

“This painting as well as Max Beckmann’s work “Fastnacht” exhibit signs of delamination, meaning that the paint is flaking and peeling. Zinc soap formations have been identified in the paint which could account for this process,” Kracht explains. Delamination reacts very sensitively to dynamic forces such as vibrations and impacts.

In further studies, Kracht will examine the impacts of these dynamic forces and consider their effect on the acceleration and intensification of the process of delamination. Her aim is to further develop existing measures for preventative conservation. “Evolution” was completed by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in 1911 and is in the possession of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

TU Berlin funding program supports alternative career paths

Kracht’s research is being conducted as part of TU Berlin’s “Joint Programes for Female Scientists & Professionals” initiative. This initiative supports alternative career paths for women working in industry and enables them to pass on their experience to the next generation of scholars. Kracht is returning to TU Berlin, where she completed her studies and her doctorate, on a one-year visiting professorship starting winter semester 2020/2021. In addition to her research, Kracht will also be offering students studying restoration and art studies at the Chair of Continuum Mechanics and Material Theory two lectures in German on interdisciplinary mechanics in theory and application and mechanical vibrations for art works and cultural objects. Funding for her research focusing on the accelerated aging of the Mondrian painting as well as other issues is also provided by the TU Berlin’s “Joint Programmes for Female Scientists & Professionals” initiative.

An expert with a European-wide reputation

For the past 16 years, Kracht has been researching new methods to protect artworks and cultural assets from the impacts and vibrations experienced during transportation. Today, she belongs to a very small group of experts in this niche area of research in Europe. In 2009, she worked with a Berlin company to develop a vibration isolation mount for the world-famous bust of Nefertiti in the Neues Museum Berlin and in 2019, working with the same company, she developed a vibration isolation mount for the Golden Panel from Lüneberg, an altarpiece weighing 700 kilograms. Working in collaboration with a Dutch company, she has also developed a system for storing oil paintings in transport boxes to reduce vibrations and shocks. She laid the foundations for her future career and expertise while studying physical engineering at TU Berlin. In 2017, she set up her own engineering office specializing in vibration technology and structural dynamics.

Prof. Dr.-Ing.

Kerstin Kracht

Organization name Chair of Continuum Mechanics and Material Theory