Nav: Home

Hidden treasure: Technique reveals buried image in famed illustrator's painting

August 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2009 -- Scientists today reported use of a new X-ray imaging technique to reveal for the first time in a century unprecedented details of a painting hidden beneath another painting by famed American illustrator N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth. The non-destructive look-beneath-the-surface method could reveal hidden images in hundreds of Old Master paintings and other prized works of art, the researchers say. The scientists reported the research at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Jennifer Mass, Ph.D., and colleagues note in the new study that many great artists re-used canvases or covered paintings with other paintings. They did this in order to save money on materials or to let the colors and shapes of a prior composition influence the next one, she says. Art historians believe that several of Wyeth's most valued illustrations have been lost from view in that way. Some regard N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) as the greatest American illustrator of the 20th century.

One of these so-called lost illustrations depicts a dramatic fist fight and was published in a 1919 Everybody's Magazine article titled "The Mildest Mannered Man." Using simple X-ray techniques, other scientists previously showed that Wyeth had covered the fight scene with another painting, "Family Portrait." But until now, the fine detail and colors in the fight scene have been lost from view. Nobody has seen the true image except in black and white reproductions.

The new instrument, called a confocal X-ray fluorescence microscope, was developed at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) national X-ray facility. The instrument reveals minute details in hidden paintings without removing paint samples. It shoots X-ray beams into a painting and then collects fluorescent X-ray "signals" given off by the chemicals in the various paint layers. Scientists can link each signal to specific paint pigments. In addition to revealing the original image, the method is providing new information on Wyeth's materials and methods. The same technique may ultimately reveal hidden images in paintings by other famed artists, the researchers say.
-end-


American Chemical Society

Related Research Articles:

More Research News and Research Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...