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Hidden Treasure: Technique Reveals Buried Image In Famed Illustrator's Painting

Date:
August 24, 2009
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Researchers are reporting the use of a new X-ray imaging technique to reveal unprecedented details of a painting hidden beneath another painting by famed American illustrator N.C. Wyeth. The nondestructive technique could reveal new insights into the artist's technique, and potentially reveal hidden images in hundreds of Old Master paintings, the researchers say.

The illustration above is hidden beneath artist N. C. Wyeth's painting "Family Portrait" (below). Researchers are using a new X-ray technique to identify the original details and colors of the "fist-fight" image (above) hidden underneath this "Family Portrait" painting.
Credit: Brandywine River Museum

Scientists report 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.

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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.


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The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Hidden Treasure: Technique Reveals Buried Image In Famed Illustrator's Painting." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819153917.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2009, August 24). Hidden Treasure: Technique Reveals Buried Image In Famed Illustrator's Painting. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819153917.htm
American Chemical Society. "Hidden Treasure: Technique Reveals Buried Image In Famed Illustrator's Painting." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819153917.htm (accessed March 5, 2015).

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