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Danish artists primed paintings ‘with beer brewing leftovers’

New evidence has been presented that suggests ‘beer brewing leftovers’ were used to prime paintings by Danish Golden Age artists in the 19th century.

According to journal Science Advances, painters used grain and yeast leftover from brewing to prime their canvases during a particularly popular era for beer in the country from the early 1800s to 1850.

Although today artists would use an acrylic polymer called gesso to prime their canvases – the process to help paint pigments stick to fabric – in the past a variety of different substances and techniques were used.

The research has shown that master painters such as Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg—who is known as the “father of Danish painting”—and his protégé, Christen Schiellerup Købke, were creating their masterpieces “awash in the boozy business of beermaking”, the publication said.

In the study, researchers looked the chemical composition of 10 paintings by Eckersberg and Købke, working with very small paint swatches about the diameter of a pencil tip and originally collected during the 1960s.

The scientists used mass spectrometry to identify the proteins present in the samples and found “ample quantities of proteins” which were from common beermaking grains, such as barley, buckwheat, wheat, and rye. As a result, the scientists speculate the brewers sold their byproducts to institutions such as the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where artists would then re-purpose the substances as a binder.

It comes at a time that Danes made and drank a lot of beer, due to the water from the local rivers and wells being unsafe to drink without treatment, and resulting in large quantities of leftover beer by-products.

As a result of the findings, the researchers hope it could assist conservationists decide how best to display and preserve painting in the future, as well as to assist in discoveries of potential forgeries.




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