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Tate Modern use solvent technology for art restoration

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19 March 2014
Solvent technology helps the Tate Modern to restore a vandalised work of art.
The Rothko painting showing the vandalised area


Following the defacing of a major work of art, TWI's solvent team contacted the Tate Modern in London to offer its services. Using a unique SOLFIT software program, TWI was able to design an appropriate solvent that would remove the damage to all the layers of this complex artwork thus saving significant time and money. Still ongoing, the work is slowly being restored to its former glory.

On 7 October 2012 a vandal scrawled his name on a Mark Rothko painting in the Tate Modern using an indelible marker pen. The painting, Black on Maroon, is one of Rothko's Seagram murals and is valued at £9 million.

Rothko painted in what is termed 'backlight' giving the image depth and texture: Leonardo painted in a similar fashion. It was reported at the time that the 'defacement of this painting was made doubly tragic as ink from the pen had bled all the way through the canvas, causing a deep wound not a superficial graze.' During the early days of the investigation, it was suggested that all the layers would have to be removed prior to being reapplied in exactly the same way as originally painted.

TWI contacted the Tate to offer its services to assess the potential for its solvent screening and selection technology, and expertise in solvent formulation in facilitating the removal of the ink from the painting without causing further damage.

The team employed the SOLFIT solvent software platform to screen a library of 50,000+ solvents for the capability to dissolve the primary ink component. This list was refined by employing the solubility parameters of selected components of the painting (specifically dammar glaze, dried egg, modified phenol-formaldehyde resin, alkyd and dried oil), to eliminate materials liable to dissolve these compounds as well as the ink.

Several of the shortlisted solvents were initially tested at TWI for efficacy using ink and mocked up painting samples supplied by the Tate. From these tests TWI recommended that Benzyl alcohol, in a suspension of poly(ethylene glycol) to make the solution thicker, be used to remove the ink from the actual painting. This was successfully applied by restorers at the Tate Museum to remove the ink from the painting with the minimum of effect to the surrounding paint work.

Further applications for this software application are limitless including:

  • Plastic recycling/separation of mixed waste
  • Reactor decontamination
  • Creation of new materials from solvent mixing
  • Li/Air + Li/Li+ batteries/recycling
  • Vaccine stabilisation
  • Lubricants/hydraulic fluids

For further information visit the solvent engineering page or contact us.

For more information please email:


contactus@twi.co.uk