Scientists had noticed an odd color change occurring in Vincent Van Gogh's "Flowers in a blue vase," which he painted in Paris in 1887. Apparently, the yellows were turning orange-gray over time (see the discoloration in the upper right). Researchers reporting in the journal Analytical Chemistry have found a chemical reaction at the interface of a protective varnish and the paint is the culprit. The boxes show where tiny paint samples were taken for analysis.
Yellow to Orange
The color-change (from bright yellow to orange-gray) in Van Gogh's "Flowers in a blue vase" can be seen to the right and upper right of the painting. Two microsamples were taken from these areas.
From the tiny paint sample (shown in an optical-microscope image), the researchers looked at levels of four compounds.
Microsamples from art masterpieces, molded in Plexiglass plates ready for investigation with synchrotron X-rays. The historic paint tube at the bottom is from the personal collection of M. Cotte.
Artist's illustration of a Plexiglass plate with a microsample mounted for investigation in the vacuum chamber of the synchrotron X-ray microscope. The small spot in the center of the Plexiglass block is the sample from the Van Gogh painting, and the cylindrical tube connects it with the X-ray detector.
Researchers have also analyzed Van Gogh's "Banks of the Seine" (1887), finding a chemical reaction caused the painting to lose its luster.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.