Joris Dik and his team of experts at the Delft University of Technology made the decision to use X-rays to examine a painting Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses on display in the Kroeller-Mueller Museum in the Netherlands.

In the late1990s, X-rays were used to reveal an image, of two men wrestling, under the still life. At that time there were limitations,Vincent Van Gogh had written to his younger brother Theo about the painting of the wrestlers, but it was unclear because of lack of detail.  This lack of detail and style differences between the still life and his other works resulted in the painting being off the official list of Van Gogh paintings in 2003.

Another problem, X-rays are absorbed by heavy metals like lead and 19th century painters used lead in white pigment. If a painting is X-rayed one can see the white paint but it will block anything underneath it.

Dik decided to use  a different technique called “Macro Scanning X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry, or MA-XRF” to get around the problem.  When an X-ray hits an atom or molecule fluorescence happens. “The target atom will absorb the energy and re-emit the radiation, at a lower wavelength, and each element radiates at a different wavelength.”

In Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses Dik’s team were able to see the elements in the pigments and the structure of the brush strokes.  They believe this evidence to together with the letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother is very strong evidence.

To see comments to Discovery by Jors Dik about the process and learn fascinating insight into the elements found in paint pigments used by the masters of times gone by click on Discovery News.

Based on the Van Gogh paintings I’ve seen I would never associate the painting in the graphic above as one of his works.

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