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X-rays show why van Gogh paintings lose their shine
Date:2/14/2011

This release is available in French.

Scientists have identified a complex chemical reaction responsible for the degradation of two paintings by Vincent van Gogh and other artists of the late 19th century. This discovery is a first step to understanding how to stop the bright yellow colours of van Gogh's most famous paintings from being covered by a brown shade, and fading over time. In the meantime, the results suggest shielding affected paintings as much as possible from UV and sunlight. The results are published in the 15 February 2011 issue of Analytical Chemistry.

The work was carried out by an international team of scientists from four countries led by Koen Janssens of Antwerp University (Belgium), with Letizia Monico, an Italian chemist preparing a Ph.D. at Perugia University (Italy), taking the centre stage in the experiments. As an Erasmus student, she worked for one year in Janssens' research group in Antwerp, and is also the lead author of the two papers. Scientists from the CNR Institute of Molecular Science and Technologies (Perugia, Italy), the CNRS C2RMF (Paris, France), TU Delft (Netherlands) and the van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam, Netherlands) were also part of the team.

Uncovering the secrets of the chemical reaction needed deployment of an impressive arsenal of analytical tools, with synchrotron X-rays at the ESRF in Grenoble (France) providing the final answers. "For every Italian, conservation of masterpieces has always mattered. I am pleased that science has now added a piece to a puzzle that is a big headache for so many museums" says Letizia Monico from University of Perugia.

The experiment reads like a crime scene investigation. The scientists employed an X-ray beam of microscopic dimensions to reveal a complex chemical reaction taking place in the incredibly thin layer where the paint meets the varnish.
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Contact: Claus Habfast
claus.habfast@esrf.fr
33-666-662-384
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Source:Eurekalert  

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