Automated Canvas Analysis Project
Learn more about the tool for sequencing and dating Van Gogh’s paintings.
The Van Gogh Museum’s restoration studio has recently acquired digital X-ray equipment thanks to the PACCAR Foundation.
The restoration studio of the Van Gogh Museum now is fortunate to have digital X-ray equipment thanks to a generous donation by the PACCAR Foundation.
The donation was promised in 2019 and the equipment was delivered and installed in February 2020. The museum is extremely grateful for the significant addition of The PACCAR Foundation Vision Studio, as this will allow the museum to extend its research.
X-ray images are often used for the conservation and restoration of paintings. X-rays can reveal damage that is not visible to the naked eye such as damage that happened in the past to paint layers and their supports (canvases or panels).
X-ray images can tell us more about the artist’s working methods and the restoration history of a painting. It can also give us clues about the dating and authenticity of particular paintings and reveal any underlying images. It is a known fact, for example, that Van Gogh regularly painted over his previous works.
X-ray images are essential for analysing the specific anatomical properties of canvases. Many nineteenth-century paintings were mounted on a supporting canvas (doubling). This hides the original back of the painting from view, so that the individual attributes of the original canvas, such as the fabric density, cannot be determined with the naked eye.
Many paintings from the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century were prepared with a layer of primer. This layer usually consists of components that can be clearly photographed using X-rays because of their basic composition, such as lead or zinc compounds. The contrast between the thicker and thinner parts of the primer reveals the specific canvas structure.
We know that artists such as Van Gogh would sometimes keep a couple of rolls of canvas in the studio. They would cut a piece of canvas from these rolls depending on their specific needs or inspiration. Once X-rays have been taken of the various canvases used by an artist, they can be compared.
Weave matching software makes it possible to compare the thread density of canvases. If an analysis shows that the primers of these works are identical as well, it can be established that these canvases were once cut from the same roll of canvas. After all, the anatomy of those canvases shows identical properties associated with that particular fabric.
Thanks to the installation of the new X-ray equipment in the Van Gogh Museum, it is no longer necessary to transport equipment to the museum in order to take X-rays of paintings. This new equipment also produces direct digital images, making the process of taking and handling these important images much more efficient.
This considerable asset for our restoration studio would not have been possible without the generous support of the PACCAR Foundation.