Science runs to the rescue of famous paintings
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
A file photo taken on Jan 24 shows a version of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings.Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” are losing their yellow cheer and the unsettling apricot horizon in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is turning a dull ivory.
Some of our most treasured paintings are fading, warn experts who would like more money for the use of sophisticated technology to capture the masters’ original palettes before the works are unrecognizably blighted.
“Our cultural heritage is suffering from a disease,” Robert van Langh, director of restoration at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, told AFP in Paris this week. “These priceless icons of our culture are deteriorating,” he said. And the amount spent on conserving them “should be multiplied by 10.”
Van Langh was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on the use of synchrotron radiation technology in art conservation at the molecular level.
Synchrotrons, stadium-sized machines that produce beams of bright X-ray light, are used to analyze the chemical degradation of famous artworks gracing the museums of the world.
Much more science is needed to understand the chemical reactions that cause color changes in canvases, in order to stop them, said Jennifer Mass, an art conservationist from Winterthur Museum in Delaware, who also attended the meeting. “There are heaps of researchers ready to do this work, but very little money.”
Experts already know that the iconic still life “Sunflowers” is browner today than when van Gogh captured it on canvas in 1888. It turns out the Dutch Impressionist painter had opted for industrial pigments, then new on the market, for his yellows, according to Belgian chemist Koen Janssens of the University of Antwerp.
Exposed to air, the yellow in cadmium, also used by Munch for his 1910 work “The Scream”, loses its brightness, while ultraviolet light -- as from the Sun -- turns it brown.