Navigation Links
Northwestern chemist investigates lost reds in Homer painting
Date:6/10/2008

EVANSTON, Ill. --- More than 30 years ago, when Northwestern University chemist Richard Van Duyne developed a powerful new sensing technique, he never thought he would be using it to learn more about treasures in the Art Institute of Chicago's collection -- including a watercolor recently featured in the museum's exhibition "Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light."

In Homer's watercolor "For to be a Farmer's Boy," painted in 1887, some of the red and yellow pigments have faded in the sky, leaving that area virtually without color. Van Duyne, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is working with Francesca Casadio, a conservation scientist at the Art Institute, to determine what the original colors were.

To solve this mystery, they are using surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), the analytical technique pioneered by Van Duyne in 1977. SERS uses laser light and nanoparticles of precious metals to interact with molecules to show the chemical make-up of a particular dye.

SERS is a variation of Raman spectroscopy, a widely used technique first developed in the 1920s. What sets SERS apart is its ability to analyze extremely minute samples of organic dyes; some samples are so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Organic dyes are natural substances that were used to color artworks created before the introduction of synthetic dyes in the late 1800s and 1900s. That's a lot of art -- from Egyptian textiles to Renaissance tapestries to Impressionist paintings and beyond.

Because red dyes are easily damaged by light and fluoresce when probed with conventional Raman spectroscopy but not by SERS, Van Duyne and Casadio have been focusing on organic red dyes in particular, working to identify those used in Homer's painting as well as in a variety of textiles, such as a 16th century carpet from Istanbul and a rare textile fragment from Peru, dated from 800 to 1350 A.D.

"Our research provides an entirely new window onto the analysis of artworks," said Van Duyne. "There's a broad range of physical science methods used in the conservation business. The trick is you can't harm the work -- the method has to be non-destructive or minimally destructive. Conservators do a lot of work with X-ray photography and infrared photography, but those techniques don't tell you what elements are present. The Raman technique tells you about what molecules are there."

In preparing for the Art Institute's major Homer exhibition, conservators discovered, using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and visual examination through a microscope, that the painting's white skies were originally painted in unstable red and orange dyes that have almost completely faded.

In discerning the painting's original colors, Van Duyne's team must figure out a reliable way of preparing microscopic watercolor samples for SERS analysis. In the end, Art Institute conservators won't repaint the original skies but, in conjunction with the Homer exhibition, they created a digital image that offers viewers an idea of the artist's intentions. (View the digital simulation of "For to be a Farmer's Boy" at http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/homer/resource/624.)

Van Duyne says that conservation scientists are unlocking the secrets of dye and pigment analysis, and that in the future such analysis will help conservators determine forgery, authenticity, exact provenance and best restoration methods. "If we have a better idea about which materials are used in paintings, for instance, we'll have a better idea of how to restore them. Just identifying what's involved is a very important step."


'/>"/>

Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology technology :

1. Nikon Instruments Opens New Imaging Center at Northwestern University
2. Argonne scientist to give the plenary talk at Royal Society of Chemistry meeting on nanoalloys
3. Indivumed Supports Roche Diagnostics With Immunohistochemistry Services and Clinical Specimens for Biomarker Discovery and Drug Development
4. Amarin Announces Publication of Pre-Clinical Memory Data in Journal of Neurochemistry
5. MedAssets Supply Chain Systems Selects Siemens Medical Solutions Diagnostics for Chemistry, Automation and Immunoassay Solutions
6. GlaxoSmithKline and Anacor Pharmaceuticals Form Alliance to Develop Systemic Antivirals and Antibiotics Based on Boron Chemistry
7. Dalton Medicinal Chemistry Partners Achieves Milestone in Collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd.
8. BioRelix and Dalton Medicinal Chemistry Sign Research Agreement to Capitalize on RiboSwitch Technology
9. Syngenta and The Royal Society of Chemistry Launch African Science Initiative
10. Decision Biomarkers Awarded U.S. Patent for Protein Array Surface Chemistry
11. Dalton Medicinal Chemistry Partners Achieves Another Milestone in Collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd.
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016  The Biodesign Challenge (BDC), a university ... to harness living systems and biotechnology, announced its winning ... New York City . ... showcased projects at MoMA,s Celeste Bartos Theater during the ... MoMA,s senior curator of architecture and design, and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Supplyframe, the Industry Network for ... Design Lab . Located in Pasadena, Calif., the Design Lab’s mission is to ... are designed, built and brought to market. , The Design Lab is Supplyframe’s ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... In a new case report published today ... a patient who developed lymphedema after being treated for breast cancer benefitted from an ... paradigm for dealing with this debilitating, frequent side effect of cancer treatment. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016  Blueprint Bio, a company dedicated ... the medical community, has closed its Series A funding ... . "We have received a commitment from ... we need to meet our current goals," stated ... the runway to complete validation on the current projects ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:4/15/2016)... , April 15, 2016  A new ... make more accurate underwriting decisions in a fraction ... timely, competitively priced and high-value life insurance policies ... screenings. With Force Diagnostics, rapid testing ... lifestyle data readings (blood pressure, weight, pulse, BMI, ...
(Date:4/13/2016)... CHICAGO , April 13, 2016  IMPOWER physicians ... are setting a new clinical standard in telehealth ... By leveraging the higi platform, IMPOWER patients can ... weight, pulse and body mass index, and, when they ... quick and convenient visit to a local retail location ...
(Date:3/29/2016)... 2016 LegacyXChange, Inc. (OTC: ... SelectaDNA/CSI Protect are pleased to announce our successful effort ... variety of writing instruments, ensuring athletes signatures against counterfeiting ... from athletes on LegacyXChange will be assured of ongoing ... Bill Bollander , CEO states, "By ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):