Masterpieces by Rembrandt and van Dyck housed at the National Gallery of Victoria have been restored to their former glory and protected for years to come thanks to a special resin developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

[Violin music plays and an image appears of the CSIRO logo in the corner of a painting of two men in conversation]

[Image changes to show a laboratory worker squeezing liquid from a syringe into a machine and text appears: What do Rembrandt and flow chemistry have in common?]

[Image changes to show a portrait of Van Dyck]

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[Image changes to show a male walking up to a laboratory bench and text appears: Masterpieces by Rembrandt and van Dyck housed at the National Gallery of Victoria…]

[Image changes to show the male’s hands unscrewing a lid from a plastic container and text appears: : … have been restored to their former glory…]

[Image changes to show granules being measured out and put into a white dish resting on some scales and text appears: … and protected for years to come.]

[Image changes to show a laboratory worker at a laboratory bench and text appears: Thanks to a special varnish resin that we developed at…]

[Camera zooms in on the male working at a machine on the laboratory bench and text appears: … our world-class flow chemistry facility called FloWorks.]

[Image changes to show a sculpture of a Japanese woman in the background and a young naked male in the foreground and text appears: We worked with Australia’s oldest and most visited gallery…]

[Image changes to show people walking past the outside of the National Gallery of Victoria and text appears: … the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).]

[Image changes to show a paintbrush being wiped on the edge of a white bowl and text appears: … to make the synthetic resin called MS3.]

[Image changes to show a facing view of a male working in a laboratory and text appears: Flow chemistry is a cutting-edge technology…]

[Image changes to show a hand pressing and adjusting a dial on a machine and text appears: … providing a safer, cleaner and more efficient way to manufacture chemicals.]

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[Image changes to show the brush brushing across the surface of a portrait and text appears: Designed specifically for conservation and cultural heritage applications…]

[Images move through of a male holding a lid and looking down at a machine, the hoses on the machine, and then plastic dispensing bottles on shelves and text appears: … MS3 resin has now been commercialised by Melbourne chemical manufacturer Boron Molecular.]

[Image changes to show a line moving from the machine into a clear plastic bottle and then the image changes to show seven white dishes containing various coloured granules and text appears: The new resin matches the rich surface sheen of traditional varnishes like dammar…]

[Image changes to show a digital display at 1.96 and text appears: … but without the yellowing and cracking as it ages.]

[Image changes to show granules in a white dish being held in the hand and text appears: As well as providing a protective coating and enhancing the visual aesthetic…]

[Image changes to show the brush moving across the portrait and text appears: … MS3 can be removed without damaging a painting’s underlying paint layers.]

[Image changes to show a rear view of a male brushing resin with a paintbrush over the surface of a portrait on an easel and text appears: After extensive testing at the NGV…]

[Image changes to show a profile view of the male brushing resin with a paintbrush over the surface of a portrait on an easel and text appears: … MS3 resin has now been trialled by conservators working in several of the world’s major art institutions.]

[Image changes to show the painting of the two men in conversation again and text appears: It has already been put to use on important works of art.]

[Camera zooms out gradually on the painting and new text appears: This is another example of how CSIRO is solving the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology.]

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CSIRO has resin formula down to a fine art

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The new varnish resin is the result of a collaboration between Australia's oldest and most visited gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and CSIRO. The product has now been commercialised by Melbourne chemical manufacturer Boron Molecular, a former CSIRO spin-out.

The synthetic resin, called MS3, is the latest generation of a synthetic varnish that was designed specifically for conservation and cultural heritage applications. After extensive testing at the NGV, the resin will now be trialled by conservators working in several of the world's major art institutions.

Michael Gallagher, the Sherman Fairchild Chairman of Paintings Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, welcomed the collaborative project, which brought together specialists from the diverse fields of painting conservation and polymer chemistry to address an important need in the paintings conservation profession.

"Thoughtful, fully informed research is essential to addressing the practical challenges of responsibly conserving paintings for the future," Mr Gallagher said.

"The addition of a stable, affordable, and aesthetically appropriate varnish is potentially a major contribution."

CSIRO's Leader of Materials for Energy and the Environment, Dr Deborah Lau, said using the emerging technology of 'flow chemistry' allowed the team to develop the resin in a safer, cleaner, more efficient way than traditional chemical manufacturing. This in turn delivered improved colour, chemical stability, and consistency between batches.

"Flow chemistry is a cutting-edge technology that allowed us to develop a bespoke fine-art resin with minimal discolouration or cracking over time," Dr Lau said.

"The resin provides a protective coating together with enhancing the visual aesthetic, and can be removed without causing any damage to the underlying paint layers. This means the resin can be re-applied to artworks and protect them for generations to come.

"For a niche market like fine art preservation and restoration, lowering the costs of production meant creating an opportunity for an Australian small business like Boron Molecular to step in and scale-up the resin for commercialisation."

Carl Villis, Senior Conservator of Paintings at the NGV, said that MS3 has been warmly received by the international paintings conservation profession because an earlier and much loved version of synthetic resin, known as MS2A, had gone out of production in 2015. With the new collaboration, CSIRO and the NGV saw an opportunity to further improve what was already the best product out there.

"MS3 is clearer and more consistent in its appearance than the earlier resin as a direct result of the flow chemistry process employed by CSIRO's scientists," Mr Villis said.

"We approached CSIRO to see if they could develop a resin for us, and we were so encouraged by the results we were seeing that we sent samples to galleries around the world for them to trial.

"The feedback so far has been very positive, and we have had the opportunity to use the varnish in recent important conservation treatments of works in our own collection, notably Rembrandt's Two Old Men Disputing and van Dyck's portrait, Philip Herbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke."

Director of Business Development at Boron Molecular, Dr Oliver Hutt, said that working with CSIRO on cutting-edge technology like flow chemistry has allowed Boron to broaden the scope of their business and upscale their innovative products to compete in the global marketplace.

"Using flow helps us get our products to market more rapidly, both here and overseas," Dr Hutt said.

"The revolutionary process also means more control and higher quality material as the chemical process is refined compared to traditional large-scale production methods. This control translates to less material waste and better environmental outcomes."

The resin was developed at CSIRO’s world-class flow chemistry facility in Melbourne, FloWorks, which was officially opened by Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, last week.

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Images

  • Resin is painted onto a masterpiece

    The resin has been designed specifically for conservation and cultural heritage applications, like the The repentance of Saint Peter by Guido Reni, housed at the NGV. Credit: Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson.  ©Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson, National Gallery of Victoria

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  • Paintbrush applying resin to masterpiece.

    The resin has been designed specifically for conservation and cultural heritage applications, like the The repentance of Saint Peter by Guido Reni, housed at the NGV. Credit: Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson.  ©Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson, National Gallery of Victoria

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  • Painting of two men disputing

    REMBRANDT, Harmensz. van Rijn, Two old men disputing (1628), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne  ©National Gallery of Victoria

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  • Portrait of an earl

    Anthony van DYCK, Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke (c. 1634), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne  ©National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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  • Pile of white powder used to form the resin.

    Researchers at CSIRO's world-class FloWorks lab used an emerging technology called flow chemistry to develop the resin with improved colour, chemical stability, and consistency between batches. Credit: Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson.  ©Selina Ou and Narelle WIlson, National Gallery of Victoria

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  • Multiple piles of resin powder.

    Synthetic and natural resins. Credit Selina Ou and Narelle Wilson.  ©National Gallery of Victoria

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