SLAC public Lecture Series
Don't Fade Away: Saving the Vivid Yellows of Matisse and Van Gogh
The masterpieces of Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat and many of their contemporaries are currently undergoing catastrophic changes, including paint discoloration and loss. This damage, which threatens many works of art of our cultural heritage, is associated with three specific yellow pigments: cadmium yellow, chrome yellow, and zinc yellow. These are the iconic yellows of the post-Impressionist and early modernist periods. X-ray analysis of the paintings, already a standard tool of art interpretation and conservation, can give us clues toward a solution. This lecture will describe how X-ray observations at SLAC and other laboratories reveal these yellow pigments reacting with their environments and changing over time, and the implications of these discoveries for the preservation of these irreplaceable works.