The "Field with irises near Arles" is one of Dutch artist Van Gogh's most famous paintings. Believed to have been the first of the 130 paintings the artist created while at the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Remy, France, it is amongst his most recognized and coveted masterpieces. Not surprisingly, the painting has been extremely well-preserved and looks as good as when the artist first painted it, except for one thing - the once purple irises have started to turn blue.
According to experts, the problem, which has also been encountered in the once violet walls of Van Gogh's painting "The Bedroom", lies in the red pigment the artist used. According to senior restorer Ella Hendricks who was involved in the study conducted by Tilburg University, the Van Gogh Museum and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the red paint is slowly deteriorating and computer modeling shows that it may disappear completely, if something is not done soon.
The researchers who revealed their findings on the Dutch television show, De Kennis van Nu (The Knowledge of Now) on December 7th, say the culprit is the museum light that is currently used to illuminate the paintings. They believe that the only way to stop the red color from deteriorating further is by changing the lighting standards, world-wide.
Whether that warning will be heeded remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Van Gogh paintings that are currently undergoing restoration will not be restored to their original color palette. Instead, the researchers plan to make digital constructions so that fans can get an idea of what original painting looked like. They believe that the simulations will also be a good starting point to determine the illumination guidelines to protect not just Van Gogh paintings, but also others that may be affected in a similar manner.
Born on March 30th, 1853, in a small village in the Netherlands, Vincent Van Gogh began his life as a missionary. He was urged to take up painting by his younger brother and best friend, Theo. Though he is now known for his use of vibrant colors, his first painting, "The Potato Eaters" that he completed in 1885 and a string of others that followed, were done in dark colors. That changed when the artist encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris, after which he not only began incorporating brighter colors, but also, developing a distinct style. Over his lifetime, Van Gogh painted more than 2,000 masterpieces. His best ones however, were those created between 1888-1890, the last two years of his life when he was also suffering from a mental illness. Unfortunately, the ailment got the better of him and the brilliant artist committed suicide at the tender age of thirty-seven.
As is the case with many of artists of that era, Van Gogh's talent was never recognized whilst he was alive. In fact, the artist sold only one painting during his lifetime. Things of course are different today - Not only is Van Gogh considered the pioneer in 'Expressionism', but also one of the most influential artists ever.
Resources: phsy.org, museummedia.nl