Two Cents Tuesday – Painting

The first thing I think of when someone says “painting” to me is the chemistry. In my younger years, I had the privilege to attend a lecture series on forensic analysis. I had originally thought that the talk on art fraud would be quite boring following the talks on arson and insurance fraud. How can you top smelling burnt articles to learn the differences between various combustable chemicals? Turns out that I could not have been more wrong; the one thing I remember most clearly from that day is the talk on art and the chemistry of the paints and canvases.

To me and you, a good copy of a painting could look like the real McCoy. With forensic analysis, hidden information, such as the true date range a pigment, varnish or canvas came from can be determined. Forensic scientists can do many things to date or verify the providence of a painting. Pigment dating. Carbon-dating. White lead dating. Infrared analysis. Microscopy. Two techniques that particularly impressed me where UV-fluorescence spectrography and X-ray diffraction and fluorescence. Certain paints and varnishes associated with historical developments have known responses to UV light, some fluorescing more than others, such that UV-fluorescence spectroscopy or spectrography can be used to determine which period a component of the painting does, or does not, come from. X-rays can also be used to determine the components of the paint and composition of the pigments; as art materials have advanced and new pigments have been developed, the purity or components present can reveal the likely age or exclude certain time periods where a pigment or component was known not to have existed.

Here is some more ways that can be used to investigate artwork. And, if you think ripping off and old master is a rare event, check out the case list of Freemanart Consultancy.

Foiling criminals who would try to dupe us with copies of great art, chemists do that…


  1. #1 by seekingsomepeace on January 29, 2014 - 3:09 pm

    We learned about carbon dating when I was in high school, but I had the impression it might be dangerous to use on important pieces of art because of something my teacher said (it had something to do with burning or the like, bad memory 😦 ). Is that true??
    This was an interesting post by the way, chemistry wouldn’t come to mind with painting to me 🙂

    • #2 by Bench Monkee on January 30, 2014 - 1:25 am

      Thanks! Glad you liked it 🙂

      That’s an interesting question… Carbon dating used to require taking a small sample from the artwork for testing, so yes, in that way it involves some damage to the painting. Usually, the samples are taken from an inconspicuous area.

      More recent techniques are less invasive. In 2010, it was reported that a new technique had been developed that was non-destructive. You can read about it here

      • #3 by seekingsomepeace on January 30, 2014 - 12:54 pm

        Thanks for replying, I’ll check that out. It would be very useful information for my WIP 🙂

  2. #4 by Bench Monkee on January 27, 2014 - 1:53 am

    Thanks! Your challenge was a pleasurable prompt to write something I hadn’t planned. I will definitely be trying to do more of these Two Cents Tuesdays!

  3. #5 by ideflex on January 26, 2014 - 3:14 pm

    This is a great perspective on this challenge – art forgery is fascinating – thanks for your entry!

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