How to preserve a 130 year old painting | Van Gogh and the Sunflowers

How to preserve a 130 year old painting | Van Gogh and the Sunflowers


A closer look at Sunflowers It’s a fantastic opportunity.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance… to be able to look at this painting
from so close up… together with these scientists
with very specialised knowledge. Research is important to find out what
the current state of the painting is… and what could be done to make sure
the painting remains stable… so as to preserve it for the future. There is never a standard recipe
or procedure for treating a painting. Every single time, you’ll have
to find out what needs to be done. You can only do
that by looking really hard. We have the opportunity
to do in-depth research… and we’re able to invite specialists
with state-of-the-art technologies… to really help to understand
the materials and the techniques used… to make the painting, and how the painting
has aged and changed over time… so that we know the best way
to care for the painting. Our profession is always developing,
just like medical science and technology. We keep getting introduced
to new materials, techniques and insights. The way we deal with Sunflowers now… is very different from what they did
at the start of the 20th century. Nowadays, we have non-invasive
research methods at our disposal. Non-invasive means
that we don’t interfere. In other words,
we can find out a lot more now… about the composition and condition
of the layers on a painting… without having to take samples
or scrapings of the painting. The research has led to many
new conclusions, as it was very extensive. One of the most important ones is… that the slat
at the top of the painting, is original. The question was: was this
an original addition by Van Gogh… or was it something
that’s been added later? We can say from the research that it’s
an original feature added by Van Gogh… who during the painting process decided
the flower was too close to the edge… and so he needed more room at the top. Another important thing
the research has shown… has to do with the discolouration
of the paints that Van Gogh used. A lot of attention went out to the various
shades of yellow Van Gogh had used. The research has shown that some
of these shades have become darker. For instance, the large, round flowers
have become much browner… than they were originally. The table top on which the vase stands,
has become darker as well. Besides noticing that some of those
yellow paints have become darker… we have also observed
that one other colour has faded. Here we have a scan of the painting,
of the chemical elements in the paint… which tells us which colours
have been used. We can see there’s a purple colour
which has been preserved. The red is mixed with blue and white. Here we even have a streak
of the very bright, intense red colour. Unfortunately, in other areas
this colour has faded. This tells us that the colour of the heart
of the flower was originally purple… and not blue, as it is today. At the end of the 1990s… a conservator has tried to solve a couple
of consolidation problems, using beeswax. Consolidation problems
involve paint that won’t stick. Unfortunately, we have observed… that this beeswax
looked rather whitish and milky. We found this really bothersome,
as it puts a veil over the sunflowers. What I’m doing now,
as part of our current treatment… is remove that beeswax,
and as soon as that’s done… I’ll also repaint some of the retouches… so that they’re no longer visible. A retouch is a way to fill gaps or holes
in the paint layer. To make them less conspicuous,
we touch them up. You become very close to the object. Once the treatment is done, you may have
to deal with mild withdrawal symptoms. The object that had become your buddy,
is gone. And all going well,
the treatment has been successful… and while your new and improved buddy
starts a new phase in life… you have to get used
to life without him.
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