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Alain Roche, La Conservation des peintures modernes et contemporaines

Paris, CNRS, 2016.
Nico Broers
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Alain Roche, La Conservation des peintures modernes et contemporaines, Paris, CNRS, 2016, 284 p., ISBN-10: 2271089166

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1Yes, in conservation some books are a must! This last one from Alain Roche is certainly one of them. Who is Alain Roche? For French conservators he most certainly is a known figure in conservation. He worked during thirty years as conservator at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF), for the Monuments Historiques and the Centre Pompidou. He is the founder of the Laboratoire d'Analyses et de Rechrche pour la Conservation et la Restauration des Objets d'Art (LARCROA). His professional qualifications and background, as a conservator and an engineer, may go some way to explaining his preferred field of research, the mechanical behaviour of paintings. His first book, entitled "Le comportement mécanique des peintures sur toile, dégradation et prévention", has been one of the most important books on the behaviour of paintings on canvas in the last two decades in the French-speaking part of the world, and still is one of the books most consulted by my students. And why is that? Because Alain Roche has a talent: making science comprehensible to all his readers, whatever their background. His new book is no exception, although it is more than just a vulgarisation of well-known facts. Alain Roche describes new tools that he has designed for the conservator in order to allow a better conservation of modern and contemporary paintings.

2The book is divided into three parts. The first chapter of the first part explains the physical and mechanical properties of materials used in modern and contemporary paintings, such as different types of canvas, non-woven material, paper , oil paint, acrylic paint. What climate is and how climatic parameters are calculated are the subject of the second chapter. A third chapter deals with the interaction of paintings with said climate. Here, new and innovative ideas are put forward, like, for example, the sensitivity chart (le diagramme de sensibilité), which offers a means of evaluating the reactivity of a painting towards ambient humidity or temperature. The limit of endurance, a notion used in the industry of mechanical design to predict the lifetime of products, is used by the author to formulate the minimal variation of tension for each type of painting (Vminit). The last chapter of the first part of the book is all about mechanical degradation factors and their impact on paintings, such as cracking and loss of paint.

3Having laid out the theory behind a new concept of evaluating potential risk of degradation for modern and contemporary paintings, the author now puts the concept to the test in the second part of the book. First, the use of the sensitivity chart is explained and its added value for preventive conservation is demonstrated. The principles of conservation for paintings are reviewed and a classification of paintings according to their mechanical behaviour and their fragility is proposed. Experimental data is presented allowing to produce sensitivity charts for a variation of combination of materials used in modern and contemporary paintings. Finally, alternative solutions to address changing climate conditions, such as backing boards and self-tensioning stretchers, are detailed and their impact on the conservation of paintings is demonstrated. The third part of the book publishes a number of sensitivity charts.

4Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) said, "All good pictures crack". As conservators we must disagree. We do not want modern and contemporary paintings to have their physical and aesthetical integrity diminished by cracks and paint loss. This book of Alain Roche, which deserves being translated into English to make it available to a bigger audience, will help us to keep the paintings of the last and this century in good condition.

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Nico Broers, « Alain Roche, La Conservation des peintures modernes et contemporaines »CeROArt [En ligne], EGG 6 | 2017, mis en ligne le 23 mars 2018, consulté le 25 mars 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Nico Broers

Diplômé de l'ÉSA Saint-Luc de Liège et titulaire d'un Master en conservation de l'Université de Northumbria (Newcastle), Nico Broers exerce en tant que restaurateur indépendant ; membre du bureau d'ENCoRE et de l'APROA, il enseigne parallèlement au sein du Master en conservation-restauration de l'ESA Saint-Luc. Il travaille régulièrement en collaboration avec les Monuments et les Sites luxembourgeois.

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