April, 20 2012
A curator of an Art Museum in Hiroshima has solved a mystery. A portrait by the acclaimed Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh hangs on their walls. Its been restored twice and that gave rise to the puzzle. NHK World’s Wakako Takada has the story.
Here she sits, Van Gogh’s Peasant Woman, unaware of the mystery that surrounded her. It dealt with the picture’s appearance, the Museum wanted to know if the restorations had changed the way the picture looks.
So we contacted professor Susumo Shimoyama of Kibi International University. He and his researches have experienced examining art works at their lab in Okayama Prefecture, they use x-ray technology that reveals the layers of the paint without damaging them.
The museum thought this technology might be the key to solving the mystery. What the researchers found looks promising. X-rays of the painting showed many black spots, the white color is the paint applied as a base. The black marks on it gave Shimoyama his first clue.
“A lot of the lead base was missing. I haven’t expected this much damage “
Professor Shimoyama near the lips and nose. Next the group used a florescent x-ray microscope to measure the volume of Iron, Calcium and other compounds in the paint. The amount varies depending on the color. This enables researches to find out what the original shades were.
They discover flecks of vermillion red paint near the lips. The team compares the two images of the damaged area. They note that red paint covers the base paint in the area that is not damaged. So Van Gogh had definitely used the red paint around the woman’s lips.
Shimoyama’s team went on to identify the exact shading of all the colors that Van Gogh had painted. This exhibit opening late March in the museum in Hiroshima. The museum is showing what the picture looked like when Van Gogh painted it.
Van Gogh had used brighter colors, not only on the woman’s head covering, but also on the face and clothing.
“I had no idea he used such bright colors. What a discovery!”
“Now I look at other paintings with a new perspective”
“It is very clear now that Van Gogh used bright colors for strong effect. He used blue as the base color, and to compliment it he used orange on her face. I think our research was valuable”
More than one hundred and twenty years after Van Gogh had painted Peasant Woman, we see her exactly the way he did.
Wakako Takada NHK World Okayama