Hundreds of the world’s most precious oil paintings are suffering from a destructive “art acne” disease, experts have warned.
Masterpieces including seminal works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh are being damaged by chemical reactions manifesting in pin-sized dots which eventually crust and flake off.
More than 30 teams of researchers across the world are now scrambling to find a solution to the scurge, which is believed to be the fault of so-called metal soaps that result from a negative reaction between metal ions and fatty acids commonly used as binder in paints.
On Saturday, an international gathering of scientists in Washington DC heard that as many as seven in 10 oil paintings could be at risk.
One-off suspicions of a phenomenon known as art acne are documented as far back as 1978.
However, it has taken recent studies to accurately characterise the nature of the metal soaps, which present as translucent white pustulations, and to establish how widespread the problem is.
Famous paintings affected include Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Goya’s Portrait of Don Andrés del Peral and Van Gogh’s Falling Leaves, according to Professor Marc Walton, from Northwestern University.