31 July 2008

Hide 'n Seek.

The hidden unknown portrait beneath van Gogh's painting took scientists 118 years to reveal

Last night, after finishing dinner at Brasserie Beck, a wonderful Belgian Brasserie on K Street in Washington, DC, I began thinking of my favorite Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh, who happened to live for a number of years in Belgium. (Well, that's not really what I was thinking about, but it sounds like a good introduction to this blog entry. I was actually thinking about the fantastic dinner I just had. Anyway...)

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist who lived 30 March 1853 - 29 July 1890. Well, just in perfect time with the 118th anniversary of van Gogh's death, it was announced yesterday that scientists found a little something hidden beneath the artist's "Patch of Grass" painting.

A previously unknown portrait of a woman by Vincent van Gogh has been revealed using a high-tech, new technique to peer beneath the paint of van Gogh's "Patch of Grass" painting.

Already it was known there was something there, likely a portrait of some sort. Van Gogh was known to paint over his work, perhaps as much as a third of the time.

Behind the painting, done mostly in greens and blues, is a portrait of a woman rendered in browns and reds.

The new technique is based on "synchrotron radiation induced X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy" and is said to be an improvement on X-ray radiography, which has been used to reveal concealed layers of other famous paintings.

The new method measures chemicals in the pigments. Specifically, mercury and the element antimony were useful in revealing the woman's face.

The work was done by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the the Netherlands and the University of Antwerp in Belgium, along with help from other institutions.

"Patch of Grass" was painted by van Gogh in Paris in 1887 and is owned by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the rural eastern Netherlands.

The reconstruction enables art historians to understand the evolution of van Gogh’s work better, the researchers said in a statement. And the new technique is expected to pave the way for research into many other concealed paintings. I think this is just wonderful. Most Excellent in fact. However, I am slightly more excited by the superb oysters I had at Brasserie Beck last night.

van Gogh's "Patch of Grass" as it appears to the naked eye.