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Date & time Sep 3
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Van Gogh's paintings turning brown

Ella Hendriks of the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam said: 'This type of cutting edge research is crucial to advance our understanding of how paintings age and should be conserved for future generations.'

Van Gogh's use of vibrant colours to convey mood and emotion was a milestone in the history of art and influenced generations of painters.

The new study looked at one of the 'new' paints chrome yellow which first appeared in the early 1800s. The warm orange yellow paint was made of toxic lead chromate and like many of the pigments of the period was necklace Hermes fake chemically unstable.

Even in the 19th century, painters knew that it turned to brown or faded over time. However, art restorers have long puzzled over why not all paintings using chrome yellow fade and why some darken faster than others.

The team of international scientists collected samples from three historic, half used tubes of paint.

After the samples were artificially aged for 500 hours under an ultraviolet lamp, only one sample from a paint tube belonging to the Flemish artist Rik Wouters, darkened to a chocolate brown.

The scientists used the same methods to study samples from two van Gogh paintings his 1888 View of Arles with Irises, and his 1887 Bank of the Seine from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

The sample was analysed using an array of analytical tools, including the synchrotron X ray equipment at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France.

The different contrast in the yellow colours used by the artist can be seen in Wheat Fields With Reaper, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in Central London last year

Using the synchrotron's microscopic beam of X rays one hundred times thinner than the width of human hair, they found that a chemical reaction called oxidation reduction was altering the chromium atoms in the paint.

The reaction which leads to chromium atoms gaining extra electrons is triggered by sunlight and UV light penetrating the surface of the paint.

The change was most common in the presence of sulphur and barium ingredients added to lead white paint in the 19th century. The scientists believe van Gogh's technique of blending white and yellow paint may have caused the fading.

Dr Koen Janssens from Antwerp University, who published the findings in the journal Analytical Chemistry, said: 'Our next experiments are already in the pipeline. Obviously, we want to understand which conditions favour the reduction of chromium, and whether there is any hope to revert pigments to the original state in paintings where it is already taking place.'

Dr Marine Cotte, an ESRF scientist also working at La Muse du Louvre, said: 'Our X ray beam is one hundred times thinner than a Hermes handbag copy human hair, and it reveals subtle chemical processes over equally minuscule areas.

'Making this possible has opened the door to a whole new world of discovery for art historians and conservators.'

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