Friday 28 October 2016

Van Gogh's true colours revealed by scientists

Steve Conor from London

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

An image of what the 1889 ‘Bedroom in Arles’ first looked like Photo: PA
An image of what the 1889 ‘Bedroom in Arles’ first looked like Photo: PA

Scientists have recreated the original colours of Vincent van Gogh's "bedroom" paintings of the Yellow House at Arles where he lived with friend and mentor Paul Gauguin until they fell out, with disastrous repercussions for Van Gogh's mental health.

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A chemical analysis of a microscopic fragment taken from one of the three bedroom paintings reveals that the true colour of the walls in the picture was purple rather than the faded cornflower-blue we see today, researchers have found.

The revelation is seen as significant because the walls of the real bedroom were white. Van Gogh's decision to depict them in a more vivid colour is being interpreted as an indication of his emotional frame of mind.

Francesca Casadio, a scientific conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago, said: "The walls of the actual bedroom in Arles were whitewashed. So the purple is his own interpretation - his own intent of expressing the resting of the mind or of the imagination."

It is highly unusual for an artist to paint an empty room, so the fact that van Gogh did three paintings of his bedroom at Arles, where he hoped to establish a community of artists with Gauguin, is seen as an expression of his need for somewhere to call home - especially as he had lived in 37 different places in his 37 years.

Van Gogh completed his first bedroom painting, which is now in Amsterdam, in October 1888.

He did two more in September 1889, after he had cut off his ear and suffered a nervous breakdown. One of those paintings is now in Chicago and the other is in Paris.

Even though the walls in the 1888 painting look cornflower blue today, letters written by van Gogh to his brother Theo described the colours very differently, saying he had painted the walls "pale violet".

An X-ray fluorescence spectrogram of a microscopic fragment of paint from the first bedroom painting revealed that pigment fading had turned the colour light blue. The original colour is purple, which has not faded on the canvas side of the fleck. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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