Science and Technology Facilities Council
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X-rays explain the discolouration of a Van Gogh painting

Scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) have discovered why paint on a Van Gogh that was originally yellow, has turned an orangey-grey colour.

ESRF, which is near Grenoble, is part-funded by STFC. The artwork ‘flowers in a blue vase’ was painted by the master in 1887 using cadmium yellow, a shade that is made from cadmium sulphate.

In a bid to protect the valuable work, it was varnished shortly after Van Gogh died in 1890. However, using the X-ray beams of both ESRF in France and DESY in Germany, scientists have characterised a previously unknown degradation process, caused by the varnish, which is responsible for the discolouration of the yellow pigment.

You can find out more about the research that has been published in the journal ‘Analytical Chemistry’ on the ESRF website (link opens in a new window).

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