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Removal of synthetic varnishes from sensitive modern paints with innovative surface-attached gels FAC21/ADSS/ARTS/THEODORAKOPOULOS

   Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences

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  Dr C Theodorakopoulos, Dr B Ormsby  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Newcastle United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Organic Chemistry Creative Arts & Design Materials Science Synthetic Chemistry

About the Project

Since the introduction of synthetic dispersion paints in the mid-1950s, many artists have applied commercial synthetic dispersion varnishes, which were often marketed alongside paints, to ‘protect’ their works. Despite the relative photochemical stability of these coatings; many have deteriorated over time, becoming sticky, cloudy, streaky, grey and/or in many cases increasingly yellowed (Whitmore et al 1996, Chiantore et al 2003). The key challenge lies in the fact that the underlying paints are often made with the same polymer type, which currently renders their removal both ethically and practically difficult, if not impossible (Ormsby et al, 2011). While removal may not necessarily be the most appropriate option; a new method based on thin gel films bonded to a flexible plastic backing, known as surface-attached gels (Matteescu et al, 2017; Freese et al, 2020), which inherently minimises solvent use, penetration and mechanical action - can be adjusted to facilitate the careful thinning of these coatings, thus avoiding/minimising any detrimental interactions with underlying paint layers. A comparative evaluation of surface-attached gels with state-of-the-art coating removal methods and materials will facilitate the optimisation of these gels for this conservation challenge, which will directly contribute to the development of low-risk, optimal art conservation practices.

 Research Aim: To evaluate and generate ethical, low-risk treatments for the removal of unwanted synthetic coatings in post-mid 1950's painted works of art

 Research Question: Can deteriorated synthetic varnishes be safely and satisfactorily removed from sensitive paints such as acrylic emulsions, poly vinyl acetates and degraded oil paints with surface-attached gels?

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

 For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

 Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. FAC21/ADSS/ARTS/THEODORAKOPOULOS) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 14 May 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021

Northumbria University is an equal opportunities provider and in welcoming applications for studentships from all sectors of the community we strongly encourage applications from people who are currently underrepresented in the arts, including those of Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage, those who have faced socio-economic barriers, those with disabilities and those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded AHRC/CDP studentship with the Tate for 3 years and 9 months full-time or part-time equivalent, which could be extended by a further 3 months. The successful candidate will receive a bursary to cover UK tuition fees (£4,500 per annum for 2021/2). International tuition fees (£14,180 p.a. for 2021/2) will be reduced by the exact amount of this bursary (therefore £9,680 p.a.): The candidate will also receive a maintenance stipend at standard UKRI rates (£15,609 p.a. for 2021/2), a £600 stipend payment and an additional £1,000 travel and research bursary provided by the Tate.


• Ormsby, B.; Cross, M.; Kampasakali, E.; Chantrier Aasen, L.; Smither, P.; Aasen, L.C.; Smithen, P. A, A preliminary evaluation of artists’ and conservation varnishes for acrylic emulsion paint films, ICOM CC 16th Triennial Conference, Lisbon, 2011
• Freese, S.; Diraoui, S.; Mateescu, A.; Frank, P.; Theodorakopoulos, C.; Jonas, U., (2020) Polyolefin-Supported Hydrogels for Selective Cleaning Treatments of Paintings. Gels 6(1)
• Mateescu, A., Freese, S., Frank, P., Jonas, U., Theodorakopoulos, C. (2017) Novel surface-attached gels from photo-crosslinkable polyacrylamides for the cleaning of works of art. In: Gels in the conservation of art. London: Archetype Publications: 237-244
• Whitmore, P.M., Colaluca V. G., Farrell E. (1996). A note on the origin of turbidity in films of an artists’ acrylic paint medium. Studies in Conservation, 41(4): 250–5
• Chiantore, O., Scalarone D., Learner, T. (2003). Characterisation of artists’ acrylic emulsion paints. Journal of Polymer Analysis and Characterisation, 8:67–82
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