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Quantitative Determination of van Gogh's Painting Grounds Using SEM/EDX

  • Ralph Haswell (a1), Leslie Carlyle (a2) and Kees T.J. Mensch (a1)
Abstract

We have investigated the potential of utilizing analytical electron microscopy to quantitatively examine the grounds used by van Gogh and, in particular, the absolute amount of extender employed. To determine the accuracy that can be achieved, a series of oil paint reconstructions were used as standards. The proportion of extender was measured using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and a relative error of 10% or better was achieved. The same method was then used to determine the ground composition of real samples from van Gogh paintings. The results obtained in this work are part of a more quantitative method of comparing and classifying paint cross sections, which will supplement the more traditional qualitative approach. The information obtained from this study is being used to add to our knowledge of the methods and materials used by van Gogh, which is helping in the reconstruction of van Gogh's oeuvre and attribution.

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Corresponding author
Corresponding author. E-mail: ralph.haswell@shell.com
References
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Adriaens, A. & Dowsett, M.G. (2004). Electron microscopy and its role in cultural heritage studies. In Non-Destructive Microanalysis of Cultural Heritage Materials, Janssens, K. & Van Grieken, R. (Eds.), pp. 73128. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science B.V.
Ajò, D., Casellato, U., Fiorin, E. & Vigato, P.A. (2004). Ciro Ferri's frescoes: A study of painting materials and technique by SEM-EDS microscopy, X-ray diffraction, micro FT-IR and photoluminescence spectroscopy. J Cult Heritage 5(4), 333348.
Aucouturier, M. & Darque-Ceretti, E. (2007). The surface of cultural heritage artefacts: Physicochemical investigations for their knowledge and their conservation. Chem Soc Rev 36, 16051621.
Dredge, P., Wuhrer, R. & Phillips, M.R. (2003). Monet's painting under the microscope. Microsc Microanal 9(2), 139143.
Haswell, R., Carlyle, L. & Mensch, K.T.J. (2006). Van Gogh's painting grounds: Quantitative determination of bulking agents (extenders) using SEM/EDX. Microchimica Acta 155, 163167.
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Microscopy and Microanalysis
  • ISSN: 1431-9276
  • EISSN: 1435-8115
  • URL: /core/journals/microscopy-and-microanalysis
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