Staff profile: Bronwyn Ormsby

Bronwyn Ormsby, Principal Conservation Scientist

Bronwyn Ormsby lies on the floor analysing and removing graffiti ink from the red abstract painting,Untitled, Black on Maroon

Bronwyn Ormsby, Principal Conservation Scientist at Tate removes graffiti ink from Mark Rothko’s painting Untitled, Black on Maroon 1958 

Work at Tate

As Tate’s Principal Conservation Scientist, Bronwyn Ormsby manages the Conservation Science and Preventive Conservation section, and is a specialist in organic materials, carrying out the spectroscopic and chromatographic analysis of Tate’s collection to support the conservation treatment process, research and programme. She also leads research into twentieth- and twenty-first century art materials and conservation processes, and has a particular interest in the cleaning of unvarnished painted surfaces. In 2012–14 she was the key scientist on the conservation project for Mark Rothko’s painting Untitled, Black on Maroon 1958 (Tate T01170). Following on from her longstanding research into artists’ acrylic paints, she is now leading Tate’s modern and contemporary art conservation research programme, including Tate’s contribution to two funded projects and two collaborative doctoral projects on the cleaning and preservation of modern and contemporary artworks. 

Joined Tate 2003.

Professional expertise

Having studied science and then trained and worked as a painting conservator, Bronwyn Ormsby completed a conservation science postgraduate internship (1995–7) and completed her doctorate on William Blake’s tempera paintings in 2002. Since joining Tate, her research has primarily focused on the analysis of organic polymeric materials, organic pigments, paints and the effects of conservation treatments of modern and contemporary paints and works of art. She disseminates her research internationally, including as part of professional development workshops for conservators, such as Cleaning Acrylic Painted Surfaces (CAPS). Bronwyn Ormsby is an assistant co-ordinator of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Conservation Committee, Scientific Research Working Group (2008–) and is an editor for Springer’s Cultural Heritage Science book series. At Tate, she is a member of the Conservation Engagement Group and co-ordinates Tate’s internal CAPS working group.

Research interests                             

Bronwyn Ormsby has over ten years’ experience in applying science to the conservation challenges posed by paints and other materials used by twentieth- and twenty-first century artists, and has produced more than fifty publications in this area. Past research projects include the Tate AXA Art Modern Paints Project (2006–9) and Interpreting the Surface: The Application of Surface Science to Artists’ Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films (2010–15). Her main collaborative research partners include the Getty Conservation Institute, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency and the Dow Chemical Company. Bronwyn Ormsby now leads Tate’s contribution to four projects, including NANORESTART (NANOmaterials for the RESToration of works of ART, 2015–19) and CMOP (Cleaning Modern Oil Paintings, 2015–18) and helped found the Modern Oils Research Consortium.

Selected publications                   

  • With Rachel Barker, Melinda Keefe, Chris Tucker, Felipe Donate and Patricia Smithen, ‘The Removal of Graffiti Ink from Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon), 1958. A Collaborative Approach’, in Janet Bridgland (ed.), ICOM-CC 17thTriennial Conference Preprints, Melbourne, 15–19 September 2014, International Council of Museums, Paris 2014, art.1007, 9pp.
  • With Rachel Barker and Patricia Smithen, ‘The Construction of a Representative Sample for Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon) (1958)’, in Janet Bridgland (ed.), ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference Preprints, Melbourne, 15–19 September 2014, International Council of Museums, Paris 2014, art.1302, 8pp.
  • With Elizabeth Willneff and Sven Schroder, ‘Spectroscopic Techniques and the Conservation of Modern Paints’, Heritage Science, vol.2, no.25, 2014.With Elina Kampasakali and Tom Learner, ‘Surfactants and Acrylic Emulsion Paints: Evaluating Changes Induced by Wet Surface Cleaning Treatments’, New Insights into the Cleaning of Paintings, 2010. Smithsonian Contributions to Museum Conservation, no.3, Smithosian Institution, Washington, DC 2013, pp.159–64.
  • With Elina Kampasakali, Antonino Cosentino, Costanza Miliani and Tom Learner, ‘An Evaluation of the Surfaces of Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films and the Effects of Wet-cleaning Treatment by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)’, Studies in Conservation, no.56, 2011, pp.216–30.
  • With Maureen Cross, Elina Kampasakali, Lise Chantrier Aasen and Patricia Smithen, ‘A Preliminary Evaluation of Artists’ and Conservation Varnishes for Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films’, in Janet Bridgland (ed.), ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference Preprints, International Council of Museums, Paris 2011, art.1318, pp.1–11.
  • With Elina Kampasakali, Alan Phenix, Michael Schilling and Tom Learner, ‘A Preliminary Study into the Swelling Behaviour of Artists’ Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films’, in Janet Bridgland (ed.), ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference Preprints, International Council of Museums, Paris 2011, art.1008, pp.1–8.
  • With Tom Learner, ‘The Effects of Wet Surface Cleaning Treatments on Acrylic Emulsion Artists’ Paints – A Review of Recent Scientific Research’, Reviews in Conservation, no.10, 2009, pp.29–41.
  • With Patricia Smithen, Frank Hoogland, Tom Learner and Costanza Miliani, ‘A Scientific Investigation into the Surface Cleaning of Acrylic Emulsion Paintings’, Preprints ICOM Committee for Conservation. Triennial Conference, India, September 2008. Scientific Research, Vol. II, International Council of Museums, Paris 2008, pp.857–65.
  • With Tom Learner, Gary Foster, Jim Druzik and Michael Schilling, ‘Wet-cleaning Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films: An Evaluation of Physical, Chemical and Optical Changes’, Modern Paints Uncovered, Tate Modern, London, and Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles 2007, pp.187–98.

Follow Bronwyn on…

Last updated 24 April 2015.