The distribution and transport of water in oil paintings: A numerical moisture diffusion model

Jorien R. Duivenvoorden*, Rick P. Kramer, Margriet H.van Eikema Hommes, Piet D. Iedema, Joen J. Hermans, Katrien Keune

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Oil paintings are complex, multi-layered systems that are prone to chemical degradation. While it is increasingly recognised that water plays an important role in these degradation reactions, little is known about moisture concentrations in oil paint systems and their temporal variation in response to fluctuating ambient air humidity. This knowledge is necessary to further preventive conservation, specifically to establish optimal environmental conditions to safeguard works of art for future generations. We developed a transient one-dimensional moisture transport model based on Fickian diffusion enabling the integration of experimentally recorded relative humidity data. Moisture sorption and transport data for painting materials have been reviewed from literature showing that each component of a painting has rather distinct properties. Including the properties of the individual layers enabled predicting the behaviour of a multi-layered painting system. A sensitivity study indicated that the response of a multilayer is determined by the combination of diffusion coefficients, isotherm shapes, maximum water contents, layer thicknesses, period of RH fluctuation and stacking order of the layers. Finally, the model was employed to investigate a case study of 18th-century painted wall hangings in a historic house to illustrate the insights that can be gained from this approach and the types of conservation-related questions that can be answered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123682
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Fickian diffusion
  • Moisture transport
  • Numerical modelling
  • Oil painting
  • Preventive conservation
  • Relative humidity


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