The 1834 painting The 84-Gun Danish Warship

19th century painters may have primed their canvases with beer-brewing leftovers

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2023-05-27 05:30:02

The 1834 painting The 84-Gun Danish Warship "Dronning Marie" in the Sound by Danish artist Cristoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg contains proteins from brewer’s yeast in its base layer.

The base layer of several paintings created in Denmark in the mid-1800s contains remnants of cereal grains and brewer’s yeast, the latter being a common by-product of the beer brewing process, researchers report May 24 in Science Advances. The finding hints that artists may have used the leftovers to prime their canvases.  

Records suggest that Danish house painters sometimes created glossy, decorative paint by adding beer, says Cecil Krarup Andersen, a conservator at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. But yeast and cereal grains have never been found in primer.

Andersen had been studying paintings from the Danish Golden Age, an explosion of artistic creativity in the first half of the 19th century, at the National Gallery of Denmark. Understanding these paintings’ chemical compositions is key to preserving them, she says. As part of this work, she and colleagues looked at 10 pieces by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, considered the father of Danish painting, and his protégé Christen Schiellerup Købke.

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