I. van der Lans
- Digitally reconstructing Van Gogh’s Field with Irises near Arles
- Part 1: Varnish
- Color Research and Application
- Volume | Issue number
- 43 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Heritage and Memory Studies (AHM)
Varnish layers applied to paintings often discolor as they age, upsetting the original colour relationships intended by the artist. The removal of aged varnish layers using physical and chemical means is a highly skilled and often time-consuming operation, which is not lightly undertaken. There are many aspects under consideration before embarking upon such treatment, including the visual result inferred by spot cleaning tests. In this article, we develop a technique for digital removal of discolored varnish that can help to envisage how a painting will look following cleaning treatment. The digital technique was applied to Vincent van Gogh's painting Field with Irises near Arles (May 1888), in parallel to the painting actually being cleaned, which allowed direct validation of the method developed. In the new method, we utilized not only hyperspectral data from parts of the painting with and without the varnish, but also experts' identification of spots on the painting where unmixed white pigment has been applied. The physical model that we use is based on Kubelka-Munk two-constant theory, commonly used to model the optical properties of paint. We show that with this model it is possible to determine the transmittance and reflectance of the varnish layer as function of wavelength. Results from previous studies confirm the calculated values. With the new method, we created a high-resolution digital image of the painting, as it would look after varnish removal, at a moment when the actual varnish was still present on the painting. The new method may help conservators and others involved in decisions made regarding issues of varnish removal from paintings, or may help to visualize the colors of a painting without discolored varnish in cases where its physical removal cannot be safely accomplished and so is not an option.
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