Cellulose nanocrystals to restore and preserve works of art

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* This article is a special collaboration between Rémy Dreyfuss-Deseigne and CelluForce Inc. This text contains content from the writings of Rémy Dreyfuss-Deseigne and content authored by CelluForce Inc.

Cellulose nanocrystals have several useful properties, including high mechanical strength and purity, high crystallinity, biodegradability, and compatibility with a wide range of materials and matrices. These properties make cellulose nanocrystals a promising material for use in the conservation of works of art, and more particularly works and graphic documents produced on paper supports, which are abundant in museum collections. Whether they are thin papers, tracing papers, gelatin sheets, or certain polymers, the materials composing them are fragile by nature and very often present recurring structural alterations which can cause many problems, especially when the works are handled, consulted, or exposed.

Rémy Dreyfuss-Deseigne, Heritage Restorer of Graphic Arts and graduate of the INP and the École du Louvre (Paris, France), has developed thin transparent films composed of 100% cellulose nanocrystals as well as nanocomposites. These films can play the role of protective coatings, consolidation material, and filler (gaps). Not only can they be applied to works of art to repair them, but they can also protect them from environmental factors such as humidity, UV light, and pollutants, thereby helping to prevent artwork from degrading and fading over time.

Cellulose nanocrystal films have many advantages, such as:

  • great intrinsic stability;
  • remarkable transparency properties;
  • significant fineness and material strength;
  • good compatibility with working papers; and
  • good stability during aging.

In addition, new methods have recently been developed allowing the direct use of cellulose nanocrystal gels for stabilizing graphic documents, such as repairing tears or consolidating the pictorial layer.

Finally, cellulose nanocrystals can be used as a reinforcing agent in materials used for works of art. For example, adding cellulose nanocrystals to a paint or varnish can increase its strength and durability while maintaining its transparency or colour. The life of the artwork is thus extended by reducing the risks of cracking, chipping, and other forms of damage.

The use of cellulose nanocrystals in art conservation and restoration is very promising, particularly through the development of new materials and non-damaging techniques, thus contributing to the preservation of the world’s artistic heritage for future generations.

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The manufacture of cellulose nanocrystal films is described by Rémy Dreyfuss-Deseigne in two publications in the Journal of Paper Conservation:

A New Mending Material: Nanocellulose Film.

Nanocellulose Films in Art Conservation: A New and Promising Mending Material for Translucent Paper Objects.

More information on nanocellulose films and their applications in art conservation can be found on the NapaNoper website.