In Old Danish Paintings, Researchers Make a Beery Find

Danish masters used brewery byproducts as a primer
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2023 2:04 PM CDT
Danish Golden Age Painters Made Use of Brewery Leftovers
This photo provided by Mikkel Scharff in May 2023 shows a canvas ground layer prepared with brewing residual yeast, linseed oil, lead white, and chalk for a test.   (Mikkel Scharff/Royal Danish Academy via AP)

Painters' studios in the 19th-century Danish Golden Age probably smelled a lot like breweries. In a study published in Science Advances, researchers say they discovered that Danish masters including Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, considered the father of Danish painting, used an "unconventional binder" to prepare their canvases—the byproducts of beermaking. Tests on small scraps trimmed from the canvases in a conservation project decades ago revealed that many of the works contained proteins from yeast, wheat, barley, buckwheat, and rye, Science reports.

The Golden Age was from around 1800 to 1850. Because water from rivers was often unsafe, "Danes made and drank massive quantities of beer during this period," meaning byproducts were plentiful, writes Kate Hull at Science. Study author Cecil Krarup Andersen, a paintings conservator at the Royal Danish Academy, says the team expected to find that the painters had used glue made from animals, the AP reports. "Then, by surprise, we found something completely different," he says.

Andersen says the brewery leftovers would have been spread on the canvases as a primer. He says the research combines two elements of Danish culture. "What represents Denmark? Well, beer is one of the first things that some people think about," he says. "But then also, this particular time and these particular paintings are deeply rooted in our story as a nation." (More painting stories.)

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