Over the past two decades, conservators and curators have often noted colour changes in Van Gogh paintings. The light-sensitive pigments responsible for these colour changes have been identified and their degradation mechanisms investigated. Yet, our actual knowledge of the time-scale of this problem is rather limited. To what extent has the observed fading and discoloration in Van Gogh’s paintings now stabilized? And if still ongoing, how fast does it occur? In other words, can we expect to see colour changes taking place in Van Gogh’s paintings over the next ten years or so ?
The present 4-year PhD project, sponsored by the AXA Research Fund and the Van Gogh Museum, will implement an imaging micro-fading tester (iMFT) in order to study the fading properties of paint and writing materials used by Van Gogh. In collaboration with the RCE (Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed) and the Rijksmuseum, the first part of the project will deal with the improvement of the micro-fading device, such as the design of a co-axial system for the fading and colour measurement processes. In a second phase the improved micro-fading device will be applied on paint samples, ranging from model paint-outs to real Van Gogh paintings. The outcomes of the research will contribute to development of an improved model for light exposure risk assessment of Van Gogh paintings and will ultimately benefit the long term preservation of Van Gogh artworks.