Vanishing Van Gogh by Gregory Smith

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Location & Time: 

Moss Arts Center - The Cube (5:30-7:00pm)

Vanishing van Gogh: The Analysis and Virtual Restoration of Color Fading in Vincent’s Undergrowth with Two Figures

Co-presented by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the College of Science

In this lecture, Dr. Smith will present the various roles played by a scientist in a fine arts museum, highlighting a recent collaborative project investigating color fading in Vincent van Gogh’s 1890 masterpiece, Undergrowth with Two Figures. The artist’s use of a modern fugitive dye, present as the pigment Geranium Lake, has resulted in significant color change in the picture and a shift in the aesthetics of the artwork. Careful scientific analysis identified the colorant as eosin, a halogenated fluorescein derivative, while elemental spectroscopy allowed the non-destructive, sub-surface detection of the compound in now totally faded passages of the painting. A brief history of the synthesis of eosin, and of its importance in artworks of the late 1800s will be given. A virtual restoration of Undergrowth using realistic colored layers determined by micro-colorimetry of cross-sections of the painting gives a better “impression” of this post-Impressionist’s artistic efforts.


Gregory Dale Smith, Ph.D.
Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist
Indianapolis Museum of Art

Dr. Smith received a B.S. degree from Centre College of Kentucky in anthropology /sociology and chemistry before pursuing graduate studies at Duke University in time- domain vibrational spectroscopy and archaeological fieldwork. His postgraduate training included investigations of pigment degradation processes and palette studies of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library and the V & A Museum, development of synchrotron infrared microscopy facilities at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven, and researching cleaning issues related to artists’ acrylic emulsion paints at the National Gallery of Art. In 2004, Dr. Smith joined the faculty of the conservation training program at Buffalo State College as the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Conservation Science. In 2010 Dr. Smith was hired as the senior conservation scientist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where he has constructed a state-of-the-art research facility to study and preserve the museum’s encyclopedic collection of nearly 46,000 works of art.