AkzoNobel and the Rijksmuseum paint clearer picture for Operation Night Watch


Inventive scientific research into colour, light and paint is at the core of the next phase of AkzoNobel’s trailblazing Operation Night Watch partnership with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt’s masterpiece is undergoing the biggest and most innovative conservation in its history, with the two partners combining their knowledge and expertise to conserve and restore the painting in the best possible way.

Together AkzoNobel and the Rijksmuseum have now identified three key areas to focus on as the collaboration starts to gather pace.

“We’re very excited to be working with the Rijksmuseum on such a groundbreaking project,” says Klaas Kruithof, AkzoNobel’s Chief Technology Officer.

“By fusing the old with the new, we can think differently, act differently and use our innovative know-how to go beyond expectations and help bring paintings conservation into a whole new realm of possibilities.”

Adds Robert van Langh, the Rijksmuseum’s Head of Conservation and Science: “We knew from the start that partnering with AkzoNobel on Operation Night Watch made perfect sense.

"Now we’re beginning to get into the finer details of how we can progress from a scientific point of view.

"We have common interests, especially in terms of colour and the ageing of the paint and we’re confident that the projects we’ll be working on will help bring The Night Watch to a new perspective and level of understanding.”

Scientists from both parties plan to work on the following projects over the next two years:

  • Recreate Rembrandt’s impastos to gain a better understanding of how he created his unique paint formulations – the precise recipe still remains a mystery (impasto is the process or technique of laying on paint thickly so that it stands out from a surface to create an almost 3D image)
  • Design custom colour calibration to improve the photography and digitisation of paintings. The system will also be fine-tuned to the particular colours used in The Night Watch, which has a very particular dark colour pallet
  • Help to improve the viewing experience of The Night Watch – taking into account the impact that the lighting conditions and the surroundings have on color perception – using AkzoNobel’s newest virtual colour display technologies

Recreating Rembrandt’s impastos

Understanding how Rembrandt created his famous impastos will involve gaining a better insight into the relationship between rheology and practical paint application behaviour (rheology is the study of the flow of matter, primarily in a liquid state, but also as soft solids).

Three different pigmented impasto paints found in Rembrandt’s work will be selected and investigated from different perspectives.

Designing custom colour calibration

Colour calibration is the focus of the second project, which aims to overcome a common issue with professional photographs of The Night Watch and other 17th century Dutch paintings.

These images tend to show a consistent brightening of dark areas in the artworks, which misrepresents those paintings on photographs in museum catalogs and other publications.

The intention is to design a tailor-made colour calibration card for photographing 17th century Dutch paintings with the aim of bringing about a substantial improvement.

Improving the viewing experience

This project will tap into AkzoNobel’s expertise in colour and light reflectance.

The paint on The Night Watch has aged and many details are difficult to make out.

To help enhance the viewing experience, the plan is to analyse hyperspectral and spectroradiometer data and use physics-based simulations to propose changes in the local lighting that could be used to improve the visibility of the painting.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to contribute our colour expertise to an historic project,” explains AkzoNobel’s Senior Color Scientist, Eric Kirchner.

“The Night Watch is an iconic painting, not only in Dutch culture but in the whole history of art. So being involved says a lot about us being the reference in the industry.”

Launched in July 2019, Operation Night Watch is using a series of ground-breaking tools and techniques to carry out a major investigation and conservation of Rembrandt’s famous painting, which has been encased in a special glass chamber.

A dedicated project team of researchers, conservators and restorers from the Rijksmuseum is working in close collaboration with museums and universities in The Netherlands and abroad, including AkzoNobel’s colour specialists.

You can follow Operation Night Watch live by visiting rijksmuseum.nl/nightwatch


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