Nineteenth century Danish painters incorporated byproducts from beer in their artwork, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances. Researchers analyzed paintings from the Danish Golden Age and believe the painters used yeast and grains from breweries to prep their canvases. The discovery will be a major aid in preserving the paintings.
Last But Not Yeast
It was an unexpected result as the team was searching for glue made from animals, according to study author Cecil Krarup Andersen, a paintings conservator at the Royal Danish Academy. Andersen told Live Science that the yeast and grains were byproducts of brewing beer and were as a paste on the canvas. The paste would smooth out the surface and stop paint from seeping through the material, similar to how gesso is used by modern artists today.
Scientists analyzed artworks by two of Denmark’s most famous painters: Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, regarded as the “father of Danish painting,” and his student, Christen Schiellerup Købke. Eckersberg was a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts for 35 years, and Købke studied at the Academy. The paintings in the study were made in the 1820’s and 1830’s and feature images of ships and family portraits. They had previously been part of a conservation project in the 1960s, and the leftover trimmings were used by the researchers for the examination. The scientists tested strips of the canvas to see what types of proteins were present. The majority of the 10 paintings included yeast, wheat, rye, and barley proteins, which are Danish ale ingredients.
According to the study, “The amount of evidence for yeast and cereal proteins is overwhelmingly high in those paintings where it is observed, too high to be simply due to contamination.”
During the 19th century, beer was not cheap, so it is unlikely that The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, which supplied materials and prepared canvases for its artists, was using the alcoholic beverage on the canvases, according to lead author Fabiana Di Gianvincenzo, a heritage scientist at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana. Leftover mash from local breweries is a more likely explanation.
Recycling materials was not unusual, according to Andersen. He noted that artists would also make canvases out of sails and glue out of boiled leather straps. There are also records that indicate beer products were used in artmaking. It was used to clean and restore paintings, and Danish literature reports beer being used as an adhesive, paint binder, and paint liner.
Beer and art are major elements of Danish culture, and this study demonstrates their connection. Anderson explained, “What represents Denmark? Well, beer is one of the first things that some people think about. But then also, this particular time and these particular paintings are deeply rooted in our story as a nation.”
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com